News / The Network


The Network - 04/12/2012


Interview with Laurent Dutoit, Geneva


Laurent Dutoit works for Agora Films as a distributor in Switzerland; he is also programming director at three network member cinemas in Geneva (Scala, Bio City) and Nord-Sud. In this interview, Laurent Dutoit tells us about the specific nature of his job as a programmer and distributor in a multilingual country amidst major technological developments – digital cinema, VOD platforms, etc.

Can you tell me about your programming work in Geneva? Who are your competitors?

The city of Geneva is basically dominated by Pathé, which runs 23 cinemas in three locations, representing 84% of the market. The independent cinemas I do the programming for (7 cinemas in 4 locations) account for the remaining 16% of the market. Many independent cinemas have been doomed to shut down over the past ten years, but those withstanding have been able to compete and retain their audiences. These are demanding and inquisitive audiences who like arthouse cinemas rather than popcorn multiplexes.The main task of a programmer is to identify and select the films which best define our editorial line, and to juggle them to ensure they all are screened as much as possible. At the same time, my job is to supply the ‘big’ and the ‘small’ films to our cinemas in a fair and balanced way, so that no one gets jealous! This has to be done considering the specificities and editorial line of each cinema, which might have a preference over certain filmmakers and want their films to be screened systematically at their theatre. 

Has the transition to digital had an effect on your work as a programmer?

Distributors are now more likely to increase the number of copies in Geneva, even for really small films, whereas before the cost of a 35mm print discouraged them. This increase in the number of copies makes for a much faster rotation of films and, as a result, everybody stands to lose. In fact we now spend much more time making sure all the equipment (DCP, KDM) is in place and in working order, whereas before all we needed to check was that the film had arrived in good! However, digital has also made it possible to install new projection equipment in all booths and provide audiences with the maximum quality of screening – from the first to the last day a film is shown.

Can you tell me about the special nature of your work as a distributor in a multilingual country?

Switzerland is unique in Europe because films here are usually exhibited in three stages when they go on release across the country. In fact, the release dates are different for each linguistic region and usually correspond to the release dates in our neighbouring countries (France, Germany and Italy). Since there are cultural differences from one linguistic region to another (and between each of them and their neighbours), we have to adapt the release to each situation; and sometimes that can be a real challenge!

What role do documentaries play in Switzerland?

Unlike in the rest of the world, documentary films are usually well received in Swiss cinemas. That’s due, in part, to the very high quality of Swiss productions and, perhaps also to the hard work of exhibitors and distributors towards making cinemas an arena for reflection and forraising people’s awareness of certain issues in our society. So it is not unusual for documentaries to get top attendance figures and even hold their own against big Hollywood productions. Said that, most documentaries are either aimed at or cannot find but a limited audience, remaining confined to alternative broadcasting channels.

What do you think of the revival of the “Heimatfilm”? Is it a film genre that can be exported?

“Heimatfilm” is a term used to describe films made in rural locations dealing with contemporary themes, to revisit or document country or mountain farming life. Such films are currently enjoying great popularity with audiences looking for nostalgia or who struggle to keep up with the rapid pace of modern life. This going back to their roots, or to the ‘good old days’, undoubtedly offers an escape like others find in science fiction or voyages into the future.

While there is absolutely no doubt that people’s fears and worries following the financial crisis are not limited by national borders, the way people confront them is different from country to country and they are rooted in centuries of cultural history. A film portraying a bearded old peasant smoking his pipe outside his mountain cabin is unlikely to attract much interest among audiences beyond our national borders. But every country has its own type of “Heimatfilm”. (WELCOME TO THE STICKS or THE KING'S SPEECH are quite renowned examples, which were also much more exportable!) A Swiss “Heimatfilm” that has been so popular in recent months is Markus Imboden’s THE FOSTER BOY (DER VERDINGBUB).

Can you tell me about VOD in Switzerland?

The VOD market is still not very well developed in Switzerland, but it is growing rapidly. And the coming months will show whether it will be mainly dominated by a few big players who will favour only mainstream films or whether niche art-house films will also have their place in it. It is not enough to offer hundreds and hundreds of auteur films to ensure there is diversity, but unfortunately there is an increasing tendency in cinema to confuse quantity and diversity. Audiences can tend to get lost in a market as saturated as the global film production market, therefore focusing on the few films that manage to stand out from the crowd. And those are mostly large budget films. So auteur films are eating each other up while nobody gets to see them in the end. In the VOD market, just like in the cinema market, auteur films need passionate enthusiasts to fight for them and make sure they get the exposure they deserve. There are some independent initiatives working on this in Europe, and Switzerland has just launched the platform , which, I hope, will play that role and enable auteur films to attract VOD audiences. Distributors in Switzerland need to get a return on their investments for the release of a film throughout all exhibition windows.


Flora Anavi