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Highlights - 11/05/2012
Release of the Greek classic STELLA in France: Interview
In 2009 Marc Olry, prop master by profession, created the Lost Films distribution company to share his passion for a few forgotten films with French filmlovers. After achieving noteworthy results with American films, he is going to screen a European film on 11 July, for the first time. STELLA FEMME LIBRE (1995), the second feature-length film by the Greek Michael Cacoyannis, better known for ZORBA THE GREEK, is played by Melina Mercouri.
1 – What made you want to distribute STELLA?
STELLA, like two of my previous releases THE LOUDEST WHISPER and TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, is a real ‘lost film’. A film which has been lost, unknown and invisible since it was first released in France in 1957. There is no DVD version and it has only been screened once on television, in the early days of the Arte channel. Last summer, during filming on a Greek island for the latest Brigitte Roüan film, somebody mentioned the recent death of Michael Cacoyannis, in July 2011. This director is still famous among filmlovers for ZORBA THE GREEK and ILEKTRA. At around the same time, several friends talked about STELLA, one of his key films. I was then put in touch with Yannoulla Wakefield, sister of the director, president of his foundation and holder of the film rights.
2 – Until now you have only distributed American films. Is this different from working on a European film?
For me, as a distributor, the work is the same: choosing a film which above all should be a real favourite and releasing it as if it were a new film, showcasing it to cinemas, the press, institutions and the public with new promotional material (a new visual for the poster, a trailer, teaching pack, etc.).
I normally approach an English company which manages the catalogue of the majors. The films are free of copyright. They tell me the cost of prints and I cannot negotiate. And there is always the problem of not knowing the condition of the negative.
For STELLA I was able to talk to the beneficiary personally by making direct contact. There was no digital copy or HD master copy. I had to pay for digitisation - otherwise I could only have screened the film in 35 mm. The negative was scanned in 2K, cleaned of scratches and dust, and the sound was improved by a laboratory in Athens. As a result, since I was responsible for digitisation, for the first time I was also able to acquire the television and video rights for France.
Although the digitised film is much improved, I would have liked to have restored it properly like LOLA MONTES and films by Etaix have been restored recently. But I do not have the resources of film libraries or sponsors to finance this work.
3 – You release few prints of films. Are your activities as a distributor profitable?
Until now I have released two or three prints of my films and the results per print were very respectable. HOW TO STEAL A MILLION (a comedy by Wyler with Audrey Hepburn) was released at Le Champo film theatre in Paris on 6 July 2011. With just three screenings per day, 1,200 filmgoers saw the film in just one week! Three prints of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD were released and these were viewed by over 17,000 French filmgoers over 18 months of screenings.
I will release STELLA FEMME LIBRE on 11 July by way of one 35 mm print and several DCP copies which means I can offer the film to several film theatres as a national release. But while there may be a real ‘market’ for heritage films or for reruns, I do not plan to release it to more than two cinemas in Paris and probably two others in the regions.
I prefer to establish a real relationship based on trust and work closely with the film theatres throughout the period of screening.
For the time being my films are profitable insofar as I can balance my release fees with box office takings.
I pay royalties to my American beneficiaries after reimbursement of my release fees and a minimum guarantee given. And I do not forget that each of my ‘lost films’ has received assistance from CNC, the French National Centre for Cinematography.
4 – What relationship do you have with film theatres?
Within a few years a very strong link was made with exhibitors, particularly as a result of support from AFCAE, the French Association for Art House Cinemas, ADRC, the Agency for the Development of Regional Cinema, and the team behind the La Rochelle festival where many exhibitors have viewed my films.
Some exhibitors now regularly follow up on all my selections (Le Cinématographe in Nantes, Le Studio 43 in Dunkirk, Le Lux in Caen, La Ferme du Buisson in Noisiel, film theatres in the south-west with programme schedules set by VEO) and others just on the favourites (the Utopia network).
Regional associations which cover several film theatres are essential in relaying this desire to show my films (Plan Séquence in Arras, CIB, Independent Cinemas of Bourgogne, Clap in Poitou Charentes, GRAC, Regional Group for Film Activities, in the Lyon area, and ACC, the Association of Central Cinemas).
Insofar as my time allows, I like to visit the provinces or outskirts of Paris to show my films and discuss them with the public.
In general, circulation of these films is spread across a year. I release them in the first week of July and they are then included in programme schedules every week until June the following year. The scheduling then becomes more sporadic. Ultimately the film reaches at least around 100 film theatres, in fact 150 for TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD, but with completely random and inexplicable results. This winter, for example, a copy of HOW TO STEAL A MILLION , which was shown in four small film theatres in the same week with one weekly screening, attracted over 100 filmgoers in the suburbs of Toulouse one Monday and, the following day, a few kilometres away, just one person!
5 – What effect has digital technology had on your activities?
This is my first ‘digital release’ and I am still learning. In 35 mm you worried about a print being lost or getting damaged. Now, you are at the mercy of a miscalculation of files or a KDM to be sent. But I think that digital technology offers an undoubted advantage in the manufacture of series of prints, conservation of the medium over a long exhibition period and transportation.
Creating digital prints of STELLA was a heavy investment but I think it will be beneficial in providing prints to film theatres more easily.
However, if digital technology brings more flexibility to programming, why would a film theatre, or a multiplex, schedule a heritage film just like that, without having done so before? This type of programme schedule arises from a profound desire on the part of cinemas to show classics to its audiences, to create a space, a meeting, to offer schoolchildren films in black and white or in original, subtitled versions. This involves a risk and a liking for these films which they share with the distributor.
Additionally, digital technology may not be a prerequisite: some distributors cannot necessarily obtain digital prints for certain films or invest in an HD master copy for a film already in their catalogue.
Setting up digital equipment in cinemas has resulted in some strange practices. Film theatres equipped with both 35 mm and digital technology sometimes request both mediums so they can move the film from one screen to another.
I have already been asked for a DVD or a Blu-ray for a film theatre equipped with both mediums, rather than a 35 mm print.
It is quite absurd.
The film theatre, and its operator, should retain a degree of strictness and rigour in the quality of their screenings, despite the advantages of digital technology.
Jean-Baptiste Selliez, May 2012