Stephan De Potter • Distributor
by Aurore Engelen
29/01/2010 - Cinéart-Cinélibre was founded in Belgium in 1975. In 2008, Cinéart spread its activities to Holland, and thus became a leading player in Benelux. Stephan De Potter talked to Cineuropa about the company’s positioning, and the challenges of a market undergoing radical changes.
Cineuropa: Can you tell us about Cineart?
Stephan De Potter: Cinéart was founded 35 years ago. We focus in particular on auteur cinema in the broadest sense, with the aim of discovering new talents, whom we follow over the years, like Michael Haneke, the Dardenne brothers and Emir Kusturica. We will soon release Warwick Thornton’s Samsom and Delilah (Cannes Camera d’Or 2009), and Léa Fehner’s Silent Voices [trailer].
Having opened offices in Holland two years ago, we have become a general player on the Benelux market, covering theatrical as well as video distribution, television and VoD for the 26 million inhabitants in the region. In the first half of 2010, we will launch a VoD platform, The Auteurs, focusing on quality films. We also actively work with VoD stakeholders on the Belgian market.
Moreover, we were one of the first independent distributors to launch into digital, with Happy Christmas [trailer, film focus] and Azur & Asmar [trailer].
We occupy a unique position on the Belgian market, insofar as we concentrate exclusively on auteur films. Our competitors, including BFD and Paradiso, have an auteur section, but also distribute major US comedies, which is not the case with us.
How do you balance your line-up?
Our slate includes a mixture of Belgian films, auteur films, and “crossover” films, which have the potential to reach out to a wider audience, like Walter Salles’ The Motorcycle Diaries and Sherry Hormann’s soon-to-be-released Desert Flower [trailer]. Cinéart’s speciality is Belgian cinema; we’re pretty much the only ones on the market to distribute Belgian Francophone films, and we’d like to “export” this ethos to Holland by positioning ourselves on the Dutch film market . In 70% of cases, we pre-buy films on the basis of the screenplay, but we leave lots of room for our festival favourites.
What are the specificities of the Belgian market?
It’s complicated because it’s a double market. In Flanders, US and Flemish films dominate. We’d like to distribute Flemish films, but in Flanders there is a monopoly situation, whereby Kinepolis Film Distribution monopolises pretty much all Flemish films.
In Brussels and Wallonia, the most popular films are often US films, and this is more and more the case. I get the impression that French films, especially middle-tier films, are really losing ground. As for Belgian Francophone films, they have difficulty finding an audience. Obviously, the phenomenon of The Barons [trailer, film focus], which has enjoyed success in Brussels, Wallonia, as well as in Flanders, puts things back into perspective! Apart from the Dardenne brothers’ films, it had been a long time since a Belgian Francophone film had enjoyed this level of success.
With The Barons, a new avenue is opening up, through comedy. The film has the force of a social film, which looks at the Maroxellois community (Brussels residents of Moroccan origin), but does so with a great deal of humour and skill. There has been enthusiastic word-of-mouth praise, and after 14 weeks, the film is still running in the theatres where it was released, in Brussels, Antwerp and Liège.
What do you think about some of the major Francophone producers’ attempts at branching out into distribution?
The tax shelter has made it possible to get films off the ground that were hitherto difficult to finance. The downside to the increase in production is the gridlock in theatres. There is no room for all these films, and in Belgium only Cinéart is committed to distributing Belgian Francophone films.
I think there came a time when producers had to find different solutions, and some started to release their own films, whether it be La Marea [trailer] (“The Tide”, Entre Chien et Loup), Formidable (Artemis) or Simon Konianski [trailer] (Versus).