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Christine Eloy, Laurent Dutoit, Stefano Massenzi • Europa Distribution

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- We met with Christine Eloy, Laurent Dutoit and Stefano Massenzi, respectively the managing director and the co-presidents of Europa Distribution, at the recent MIA event in Rome

Christine Eloy, Laurent Dutoit, Stefano Massenzi • Europa Distribution
Christine Eloy, Laurent Dutoit and Stefano Massenzi

On 21 October, the Europa Distribution network of European distributors organised a panel discussion on piracy at the Rome International Audiovisual Market, aka the MIA (see news). It was a great opportunity to talk to managing director Christine Eloy, co-president Laurent Dutoit (Agora Films) and newly elected co-president Stefano Massenzi (Lucky Red) about the distribution landscape in Europe and the association’s activities in general. 

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Cineuropa: How has piracy evolved over recent years and how has the work of distributors changed? 
Christine Eloy:
 The impact that piracy has on distribution is huge. A whole range of options that were once available for distributors showing their films are now disappearing. It has a big impact on commercial films, but on independent cinema, too. As our members say - who are distributors throughout Europe and beyond - the situation is very serious, especially when you consider the much-weakened state of the distribution industry in general. There are differences between the 29 countries that we cover; obviously the situation in Lithuania isn’t the same as in Spain or Italy. But generally speaking, the options for showing independent films are becoming increasingly limited. Of course there’s always the option of cinema screenings but the competition is huge - in some countries the number of films has actually doubled in the last 15 years. It’s also very difficult to sell films to the television broadcasters, and DVDs and Blu-Rays are struggling too. 
Laurent Dutoit: In some countries DVDs have plummeted in popularity but they’re hanging on in there; in others they’re practically dead. And VoD for independent cinema is still practically non-existent, there’s just no market for it.

What’s your position on the media chronology debate?  
LD: It’s a topic upon which the various countries just can’t agree. Each country has different exclusivity windows, some are fighting to get rid of them and others want to keep them. My own view is that it’s in countries where there are strict windows, like France, that we see the highest market share of European content, greater diversity, and a thriving tradition of auteur cinema. In countries that are fighting against exclusivity windows, favouring day-and-date release, such as the UK, independent distribution is dying out. I do understand the viewpoint that the public needs to see everything immediately, and across all mediums, but in my opinion, this signals the end of the cinema experience. It can work for certain films, maybe one or two a year, but not as a general rule. 
Stefano Massenzi: Everything that is done should be in the best interests of the film. There are a variety of interests at play that distributors have to manage. Free-to-air TV would like to have films first, but so would Pay TV and VoD. The distributor has to protect the film and the film producer. One thing the windows system shouldn’t do is confuse the consumer over what is available at any given time and what isn’t – generalised chaos would not be a good thing. The current rigid system, however, isn’t in keeping with the times. In my opinion, having to wait 12 months to be shown on Pay TV and 24 months to be shown on free-to-air TV is just too long. At the same time, we need to make a distinction between event-films that are shown for a limited time (three days or no longer than a week), for which we would need more flexible windows, and traditional releases which would continue to be treated in the traditional way. If I offer exhibitors a film that’s a hit for just a week, I’m doing them a favour by not taking up too much of their time for too long. Restricting box office activity to just a few days is a good thing.

What other topics are up for discussion at Europa Distribution?
CE: As an association, we’re constantly asking ourselves what issues are important for our members. One of the last conferences we held in San Sebastian was on the subject of funding with a view to achieving a better overall balance from the film’s creation to its release, and there will be further meetings on how funding can best be adapted to suit today’s market. We’ve hosted various conferences on VoD, for which growth is forecast but no-one is clear on what form this will take. We’ve also tackled the theme of film literacy: it’s important for children to be educated about cinema so as to ensure that the interest in European films doesn’t peter out in the coming years. This is the distributors’ job: to get the public interested and to then do everything possible to make sure the films actually come into existence.
LD: Government policy should take account of the work distributors do. So much money is channelled into production, but films are then left to do battle alone in the marketplace. We need to invest more in the promotion of films, so as to entice as many people as possible to come and see them. 
SM: There’s been a big increase in productions, in cinema and on TV, but we should also remember that these films need to be helped at distribution level via subsidies and investment obligations placed upon television broadcasters. This is especially the case for European cinema which is gaining ground but its position is still weak compared to that of American cinema or domestic films in their individual countries. 

What are the advantages of being a member of Europa Distribution?
LD: The main advantage is the networking and the workshops which provide an opportunity to meet other distributors who are doing the same job as you in another country, and to learn from each other’s experiences. We can also share the films that we like, without competing with one another. A network is helpful for acquiring films, comparing distribution strategies and for working in collaboration to create posters, trailers and promotion strategies. 
SM: Being able to monitor trends in other countries is also crucial. Distribution is constantly changing from one day to the next, just like the public’s taste in films and we have to keep up with it.

What’s next on the agenda for Europa Distribution?
CE: In March we have an animation workshop organised in Bordeaux, in collaboration with Cartoon Movie, where we will examine case studies of various animation films from different distributors. A negotiation workshop will then take place at the Sofia Meetings event: given that distributors must first buy and then sell their films, we will look at how we can improve our negotiating skills with the help of experts on the subject.

(Translated by Michelle Mathery)

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