When I go to the Berlin Talents every February where I talk about the international film business, or when I teach at the Deutsche Welle Akademie to Film
Festival Directors from Asia, Africa and Latin America, I am inspired to see the diversity of the well educated, articulate and idealistic younger
This new generation is organizing festivals as new channels of distribution, creating new audiences from heretofore little heard-of places in Africa, Asia
and Latin America, and via the Talents, everywhere else in the world. The Talents themselves are living all over the world, and their parents often come
from still other faraway and little known countries and cities. These “third culture kids” aka TCK may well be running things very soon.
Last year when a young woman director, seeking some guidance began to explain to me that she knew being a woman with an Egyptian father and a Somalian
mother, living in London was not exactly a recipe for success, I interrupted her to tell her never to explain, apologize or negate herself; that her
origins and parentage are the new normal and they can make our world a new diverse world in which everyone has a share and in which unique stories that
others want to hear can find their audiences.
My own proclivities to diversity — I belong to a minority group that is increasingly vilified and yet is always at the forefront of every field (except
sports and dance) — that is, I am Jewish — sensitizes me to what is good or bad for the Jews.
My reflex reaction to every news item reflects this. For example, Bernie Madoff : Bad for the Jews. Nobel prize winner? Good for the Jews.
I am also an American. And I am thrilled when I see The Americas bonding together to make movies. Los Cabos International Film Festival, with its motto,
“Get to know your neighbors” and its mission of unifying a production community of both indies and studios from Mexico, U.S. and Canada (and the rest of the Americas) brought this
exciting development to the forefront of my mind.
On the Jewish side of this development, it is also great because in our business there are always Jews, no matter where, even in Palestinian production,
thanks to Katriel Schory of the Israel Film Fund. That is, in fact, why I entered this crazy business in the first place.
Recently I read the front page of the L.A. Times and saw that China is really seeking a foothold in our U.S. business. Megaconglomerate, Dalian Wanda —
employer of our dear friend, Rose Kuo, and employer of the former President of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS), Hawk Koch — is
eyeing Lionsgate (and MGM who still produces the James Bond franchise) for acquisition. Lionsgate already has a streaming VoD deal with the other Chinese
megaconglomerate, Alibaba, which looks like it is about to dwarf Amazon.
That is natural connection in many ways. Lionsgate has a stable and friendly team whose players, from Jon Feltheimer, Michael Burns, John Dellaverson,
Steve Beeks, Jason Constantine, Eda Kowan, and even the comparatively newcomer to LG, Patrick Wachsberger and his team, have been together a very long time
making LG one of the most stable companies in the business. At face value, when reckoning the US $40.9 million gross in China of “Escape Plan“, a US $25.1
million grosser in U.S., or “The Hunger Games” which in China grossed U.S. $27.9 million and in U.S. Grossed US $408 million, this looks like a good match.
Let me go back one step before I step forward into the Dance of the New Year with the points I want to make in this blog.
One step back:
Three years ago, the Chinese paid for the most lavish Cannes Market Opening Night party we had seen in a very long time. The following year India hosted
the party on a decidedly lesser budget. The following year it reverted to the Chinese. The Chinese firework display, their food, their extravaganza
entertainment that first year had everybody buzzing, “The Chinese are taking over.” This was said as a fearful revelation and with a tinge of xenophobia.
U.S. Debt: owned by China
African developing industry: owned by China
All the factories and steel of Germany: bought and exported by China
Cannes Market: owned by China (not so)
Everybody recognizes the might of China’s economic power. Are we friends? Are they potential enemies? In trade we know friendliness is much more profitable
than enmity, which is why the world needs to live in peaceful coexistence. China has 4,000 years of business dealings and bureaucratic and political
infrastructure building, quite a jump over our measly 125 years of Capitalism.
That is Step One.
Steps Forward: Two and Three, Four, Five and Six
If Wang Jianlin, owner of Dalian Wanda Group buys Lionsgate and MGM, which seems likely in 2015, what does that mean for us? Lionsgate already has a deal
for digital on demand with the Chinese megaconglomerate Alibaba.
One, as Jews, it is like the 1948 novel Peony by Pearl Buck. The Chinese don’t care that the waves of Chinese populations act like tsunamis. And
being engulfed in a tsunami does not mean an end to life. It means the continuation of new, formerly small forms of life which are presently defining
themselves as recognizable market forces and which resemble the Afghan-Chinese children who were born in Africa but live in London, or The Jews who look
Chinese or Indian rather than “white”. These are the “Third Culture Kids”, aka TCK, and they are our future.
Steps Three, Four, Five and Six
Lionsgate owns “The Hunger Games” franchise, The Tyler Perry franchise, and it has a solid share in The Eugenio Derbez (read “Latino”) franchise, 3Pas
Studios. What this promises for diversity is phenomenal:
Women have a share in “The Hunger Games“…and I hope that a new twosome for the big screen will soon be Reese Witherspoon and Eugene Derbez who have the
potential of becoming this century’s Claudette Colbert and Clark Gable. “It Happened One Night“ remains a classic.
African Americans have a share as a recognizable market force as the Tyler Perry franchise proves. The “new” demographic can define and refine new
audiences in the rising middle classes of Africa. The extraordinary numbers of African buyers at AFM this year attest to their rising economic power.
Asian Americans have a huge new market too. Finally the niche indie players will find kindred groups in So. Korea, China, Japan, Malaysia and Thailand,
Taiwan and Hong Kong, etc. who will show their appreciation of Hollywood trained talent who happen to also be Asian and have struggled for so long to find
a foothold in this business.
And Latin America, the only region in the world without any vexing international competitive opponents, the only region never hit by the military war
machine (not to say they have been free of military dictatorships in their histories or subjugated by colonial powers); Latam offers a potential audience
of 470 million Spanish speakers.
The diversity of the niche streams will form a strong current. That is where I am seeing the excitement fomenting.
Giants do not live alone among themselves. Even in fairy tales, the people in the cities are the focus of their power. Analogous to that, the U.S. Major
Studios, weakened by the growth of independent cinema are now finding major allies among the Chinese and Indians (Reliance does own Dreamworks and IM
Global). And as they ever seek new talent to revitalize their propensity to grow fat and slower, so again we can watch and partake in a new growth, a new
vitality in our worldwide moving picture industry. There is enough to go around. The majors, while guarding their lion’s share of the market still must
spread the wealth because they no longer own all the means of production or distribution.
The 1% cannot hoard its wealth when a new giant is stalking the land and is spreading its wealth in creative ways which bring new life to the bit players
looking for work.
More movies with bigger budgets and more megaplexes worldwide mean more actors, directors, writers, producers, teachers and trainers for both cineastes and
the general public to buy more tickets…that is show business.
Out with the old stagnation, and in with the new currents. May they become a tonic wave of power that we all can ride into shore. (Thank you Stefan Zweig
for your metaphor of 100 years ago.).
Have a healthy, happy and profitable 2015!