Now that the initial outrage has subsided, let’s step back and look at the larger picture: the killing of Wellspring’s theatrical distribution arm by Genius Products and The Weinstein Co comes at a time when the film business is fleeing art — or looking for new business models to distribute it: Take IFC’s First Take series. Perhaps the only new piece of reporting that I add to the Wellspring closure in this Village Voice story, “Good Morning, Night” published today, is that Wellspring may have been undone, partly, by IFC Films, which has a close relationship with the The Weinstein Co and plans to deliver art films to some select theaters and through its new video on demand service. As one industry-insider told me, “TWC already has IFC to help with artsy stuff.”
But that’s assuming that The Weinstein Co has any interest in art films — which at this point in time, I severely doubt. Because every major specialized distributor is moving away from art films. The new Paramount Classics will certainly not distribute them. Focus, Picturehouse, Samuel Goldwyn, Miramax, ThinkFilm, Zeitgeist et. al. may release one or two foreign films a year, but for the most part, Sony Pictures Classics is the only company that will be releasing them with any regularity (and judging from the advanced buzz on “Joyeux Noel,” it may be foreign, but it’s no art film). Interestingly, the only companies devoted more to foreign language films than American movies are the post-Larry Meistrich-run Film Movement, which still puts out about roughly 9 foreign flicks a year — but then again, most of those go straight to DVD — and New Yorker Films, which doesn’t have the marketing dollars to really propel a film in the highly competitive marketplace (added).
I guess Tartan Films USA (“Battle in Heaven“) and potentially the new First Look Pictures (“The Proposition“) may be the big winners here. They could step into the niche that Wellspring carved out, and save foreign films from small-screen oblivion.
There’s another point that I wasn’t able to make in my Voice story that was cut because of space restrictions, and that is, how challenging it was for Wellspring staffers to make those films work. As one former Wellspring exec told me, “No matter how much you love the movies, it’s a drain. It’s a real drain on your daily life.” These were intrepid cinephiles running a company in a time when art is increasingly devalued. “The whole culture is going to hell,” another exec told me. “I don’t know if it’s because there are so many options, or the culture has changed, or people don’t want to be challenged very much, but I think the notion of what is intellectually stimulating has significantly dropped.”