Off the beaten track with “The Big Trip on tour”
by Aurore Engelen
09/12/2011 - At the start of October, a strange and motley group descended on the Namur Film Festival: a film team, a bunch of mates, a carnival band and rock group on tour all rolled into one. The Big Trip, an unlikely forest epic, which starts off as a true story and gradually transcends its own limits, explodes the boundaries between documentary and fiction. Its producer Philippe Kauffmann (La Parti) describes the film as “fragile, difficult to position on the market”. In order not to sacrifice the film by releasing it through a traditional distribution network where it would have struggled to stay one or two weeks on screens in three or four theatres, an unusual programme was devised for it.
La Parti, a collective of artists and producers, had already developed original communications strategies for A Town Called Panic [trailer, film focus] and Kill Me Please [trailer]. “The Big Trip on tour” takes things a step further, because as well as a tailor-made promotional campaign, the film is distributed through a parallel circuit. What began as a joke – a live recreation of the band’s tour in the film – gradually took shape. Basing themselves on a study published in 2009 that identified cultural centres as alternative locations for showing films, and drawing inspiration from the experiment carried out in Flanders by Tomas Leyers (Minds Meet) for the release of Little Baby Jesus of Flandr [trailer], La Parti chose to “reach out directly to audiences” with the film. At each meeting, the film’s director (Jerôme Le Maire) or initiator (Vincent Solheid), as well as certain actors, accompany the film, in “a human adventure that spins out the film”.
This autumn, the film was therefore shown and will be shown by 15 different places in Wallonia and one in Brussels, mainly cultural centres, but also concert halls for example. In the end, the film will have attracted nearly 3,000 viewers, which is surely more than it could have achieved if it had been released through a normal distribution network. Moreover, the tour might pick up again “spontaneously” at the start of 2012.
Obviously, this isn’t an option applicable to all projects, and it isn’t in any case particularly profitable (although the costs are covered by the promotion funding received by the film as well as sponsorship). It certainly isn’t a structuring solution that provides ready-made answers to the difficulties many Belgian Francophone films face in finding their audience. On the other hand, this experience has reminded its initiators that there is a real desire among audiences for a different type of cinema. When the collaboration with partners hosting the film was proactive, notably in terms of promotion, the audience responded by turning up. These screenings have reinforced Kauffmann’s opinion that the current hierarchical organisation of distribution networks prevents films from circulating freely. He thus regrets, for example, that Tournai audiences, who are particularly enthusiastic, can hardly ever see films in their first week on release. The arrival of DCP could enable an increase in the number of prints, and indeed a more simultaneous distribution, although at the present time the virtual print fees still pose a problem. He noticed that by increasing the number of small, local avant-premieres, it was possible to put auteur cinema back at the centre of people’s lives. This initiative is in line with the many well-considered efforts focused on the distribution of Belgian Francophone films, like the creation of the Magritte Awards, the setting-up of O'Brother and Dreamtouch, and even the decision by some producers to distribute their films themselves (including Need Productions, which will release Miles From Anywhere [trailer, festival scope] in January 2012).
In the meantime, at the start of the year, Kauffmann, joined by different partners, will launch a promotional company which will specialise in quirky campaigns, accompanying projects right from the production stage and paying particular attention to the online existence of films. On the production side, after a year off which made it possible to give maximum support to The Big Trip, 2012 will mark a return on set, with the start of shooting in April on Riton Liebman’s Je Suis Supporter du Standard (starring Liebman and Léa Drucker), and in August, on Alleluia, the second part of Fabrice Du Welz’s Ardennes trilogy, starring Bouli Lanners and Jeanne Balibar.
(Translated from French)