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Jeff Lipsky, Strange But True: How Adopt Films Ruled Berlin

Indiewire By Andrew Lapin | Indiewire March 9, 2012 at 9:0AM

Reject the day-and-date model, cater to AARP members and dismiss premiere parties as “vanity jerk-offs.” It may not sound like a winning strategy, but it’s an approach that allowed Jeff Lipsky’s Adopt Films to acquire four prize-winning titles at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival
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Adopt Films acquired four titles in Berlin. From top left: 'Sister,' 'Caesar Must Die,' 'Tabu' and 'Barbara.'

Reject the day-and-date model, cater to AARP members and dismiss premiere parties as “vanity jerk-offs.” 

It may not sound like a winning strategy, but it’s an approach that allowed Jeff Lipsky’s Adopt Films to acquire four prize-winning titles at the 2012 Berlin International Film Festival -- including “Caesar Must Die” (Golden Bear), “Barbara” (best director for Christian Petzold), “Tabu” (Alfred Bauer Prize) and “Sister” (Silver Bear, special prize). 

“It was some kind of strange alchemy,” said Lipsky, who swears he doesn’t know how a company with no releases to its name landed so many acclaimed films, only identifying the amount he paid per title as under $1 million. (During Berlin, Adopt also acquired a fifth title, "Cafe de Flore," which premiered at Venice last year.) “It never happens like that.” Nonetheless, he hopes to do it again at Cannes. 

However, one of Lipsky’s competitors has a pretty good idea how it happened.

“Jeff’s reputation precedes him,” said Gary Rubin, senior VP at Cohen Media Group, which picked up four titles of its own at Berlin including festival opener “Farewell, My Queen.” 

Co-founder of October Films and Lot 47 Films, Lipsky’s well known as an industry firebrand. (That assessment of premieres is a direct quote.) However, some elements of Adopt are straight from the art house playbook: Lipsky wants Adopt to release six to eight movies a year; he’d like the company to occupy the same art-house stature as Roadside Attractions. He also plans to launch Oscar campaigns for his most promising Berlin acquisitions, including Ursula Meier’s “Sister.” 

“We were really impressed with the enthusiasm Adopt showed us and the clear vision they had on the campaign. Their offer was simply the most convincing,” sales agent Tanja Meissner of Memento Films said. Meissner, who negotiated the deal for “Sister” and said she has known Lipsky for “a long time,” noted that the distributors came to the film’s booth three times a day and laid out a vision for how to market it.

Jeff Lipsky chose the name Adopt Films because he wanted to be listed first in distributor directories.

Barely seven months old itself, Adopt is the brainchild of industry veteran Lipsky and Film Society of Minneapolis-St. Paul board members Tim Grady and Karen Sternal. Lipsky said Adopt reflects an opportunity to foster a new brood of independent movies for baby boomers.

“The audience for most independently distributed films is an older audience,” Lipsky said. “I think the next 10 years are a potential goldmine. And they’ve got cabin fever, they’re empty-nesters, they’ve got more disposable income than they’ve ever had in their lives and their tastes haven’t changed.”

Lipsky couldn’t wait until he had a fully formed company to make the first purchase. On a tip from Grady, he sought out Marie Losier’s “The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye,” a documentary about musician and performance artist Genesis Breyer P-Orridge and the cosmetic surgery he and his wife underwent to resemble each other. 

Lipsky acquired "Ballad" on Labor Day 2011, the day before he formally announced Adopt Films – a name he chose because he wanted to be listed first in distributor directories.

“It was really like a first date,” “Ballad” producer Martin Marquet recalled of his sales team’s initial meeting with Lipsky. “There was no sense of what this was going to result in, but we just knew the energy was right and we went with it.”

“Ballad” is the first Adopt picture to leave the nest; it debuts this weekend in New York, San Francisco and Berkeley on the way to a nationwide rollout. A theatrical traditionalist, Lipsky will honor a four-to-six month window before releasing movies on home video and digital platforms. 

When the films do make their way to the digital realm after hitting a minimum of 40 markets, Los Angeles-based GoDigital will distribute them through VOD channels. Adopt Films signed a three-year contract with the company in January.

Though GoDigital CEO Logan Mulvey is a big believer in day-and-date VOD releases, he said he is nevertheless “happy with playing both sides of the fence” by adhering to Lipsky’s strategy.

Lipsky has played both sides of a different fence, having directed four films and written three. But he said his filmmaking career has had only a minimal impact on his distribution strategies. 

“Aesthetically, I may be drawn to the same kinds of films that influenced me as a filmmaker,” he said, listing Carlos Reygadas and Cristian Mungiu as his favorite directors. “But not to the exclusion of other types of films.”