As a filmmaker I have dealt with the myriad issues entailed in making a film - from conception to pre-production, production and post-production - so becoming an accredited press member covering 2008 FilmFest Hamburg seemed a natural extension. Film festivals are unique in that they bring together journalists and film industry professionals, as well as directors and actors involved with the films that are shown.
On September 26, the second day of the festival I met two industry individuals: Jürgen Tobisch and Charlie Cockey. Naturally when we spoke, the conversation converged onto professional aspects.
Charlie Cockey is a film programmer based in the Czech Rebublic. He is the European Film Programmer for the renowned international film festival CINEQUEST (San Jose, California), and Co-Programmer for the international independent film festival in Berlin, AROUND THE WORLD IN 14 FILMS.)
Marinell Haegelin: O.K. Charlie, tell me everything you know about festival programming – as it was then, and as it is now.
Charlie Cockey: I can only go back to how it was in the 1990s; programming itself isn’t what’s changed, it’s the role of the festivals. And what happens when you try to acquire a film. Previously the festival was a main method of getting exposure for a film — for future commercial sales and foreign distribution.
They still fulfill this role, but with the proliferation of festivals in the last years and the tightening of distribution systems, particularly in Western Europe and America, (well, probably everywhere) the festival route has also become, for many films, the primary market. It wasn’t so much a market before as it was a launching pad. It’s still a launching pad for festivals such as Cannes, Sundance, Toronto, Rotterdam, Berlin, Venice, etc.
But other than these, and national festivals – which also help launch films by showing invited foreign guests a particular country’s films made in the last year – the bulk of the festivals have themselves become the major markets for a lot of the small, low budget, perhaps more slowly paced, or more niche audience films.
MH: How do you think this will affect all the truly independent filmmakers trying to break in to the industry?
CC: It’s not that the festivals are becoming more market oriented, it’s that the people who are buying the rights to films are considering festivals themselves as markets: as the money-making-back proposition for more and more of the films that will likely not see theatrical distribution.
MH: Is that why more festivals are having to pay to show films?
CC: I think so. If you get a film directly from the director or producer, you generally aren’t paying a screening fee, however a lot of these films are marketed by a producer to somebody who handles world sales, who will then sell the rights for various countries. These distributors usually want money; and it’s getting to be more and more money every year. There are negotiations that one can enter into, because the distributors obviously do want their films shown… but they also realize that most “regular” festivals, as opposed to market festivals such as the Berlinale, Cannes, AFM (American Film Market) or Toronto, are becoming a primary commercial market.
Jürgen Tobisch is a Project Manager for a subtitling company in Germany:
Jürgen told me when he watches a subtitled movie, he notices whether the subtitles meet the (basic) criteria for good subtitling or not. The film he had just seen got a passing mark. We discussed that the audience is often unaware of the unsung glories of producing good subtitles (until they see bad subtitles, I might add.) For example, how the pacing has to match what is being said.
When I asked Jürgen about subtitles and edits (of personal interest to me as an editor) he concurred if there is a visual cut, then the subtitle should respect this as well or it becomes visually disturbing to the viewer. Also not to be overlooked: as Jürgen pointed out, subtitles need to be on screen long enough for people to be able to read them and this can be challenging when dialogue is spoken quickly.