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Lorber Films, Aiming to "build the classics of tomorrow"

Indiewire By Eugene Hernandez | Indiewire July 22, 2009 at 11:27AM

"Not every film will be a nightmarish, political allegory," quipped veteran film distributor Richard Lorber recently, detailing the types of movies he's aiming to release via Lorber Films, his eponymous new distribution outfit. He was referring to Pablo Larraín's "Tony Manero," the provocative Chilean film he is currently taking around the United States.
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"Not every film will be a nightmarish, political allegory," quipped veteran film distributor Richard Lorber recently, detailing the types of movies he's aiming to release via Lorber Films, his eponymous new distribution outfit. He was referring to Pablo Larraín's "Tony Manero," the provocative Chilean film he is currently taking around the United States.

After seeing "Manero" in Cannes last year, Lorber said he just couldn't get the movie out of his head, so he bought it. The film, lacking a U.S. deal, fit his goal of finding movies that have not yet received adequate distribution in this country.

Lorber Films officially kicked off earlier this month with the releases of "Manero" and Ben Addelman & Samir Mallal's Sundance '09 doc "Nollywood Babylon." A number of other films are on tap.

The new label is the arthouse and foreign film arm of Lorber HT Digital, a young company aimed at co-producing and marketing specialty films and docs theatrically and via digital and DVD distribution. And Lorber's Alive Mind label releases specialized "transformative" content. Lorber, President and CEO of the company, is joined by VP of acquisitions Elizabeth Sheldon and Ray Privett, director of theatrical and festival distribution for Lorber Films.

"We are looking for films that are beyond just dilatory entertainment, we want films that have an edge and have staying power," Lorber told indieWIRE. "We are going to build the classics of tomorrow." He continued, "The real challenge is to unearth those films or the gems that warrant the critical contextualization that makes them standards for the next generation."

Next up for the company is a mid-November debut at New York's Film Forum for a nearly forgotten, critically acclaimed film, Alexander Sokurov's "The Sun." An apparent disconnect between the film's producers and sales agent left the movie in limbo for quite awhile. It will finally make it to U.S. theaters more than four years after it debuted at the Berlin International Film Festival.

Richard Lorber (right) with Agnes Varda at a party in his home earlier this year. Photo by Brian Brooks/indieWIRE.

Lorber is currently closing a deal for the Ursula Meier film, "Home," starring Isabelle Huppert and Olivier Gourmet -- last seen at this year's New Directors/New Films series in New York, as well as a higher-profile title that he declined to name.

Previously working under the Koch Lorber brand, Richard Lorber is known for his work launching Fox Lorber Associates, which was eventually sold to Winstar and became Wellspring. He and Michael Koch recently decided not to renew their Koch Lorber contracts after selling it to Entertainment One and the new owners decided to move away from arthouse and foreign fare.

With his new label, Lorber is aiming to bring eight to ten art house, foreign language and documentary titles to theaters (and an additional five to ten direct to video) each year. He reiterated that he is looking for films "that have a reason to be other than just light entertainment," he said, "Hollywood is pretty good at doing that and we are not trying to compete with that."

Beyond his extensive work in film and television, with a background as a critic for Art Forum and many years of work teaching art history, Richard Lorber recently received the "Chevalier de L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres" (knighthood in the arts) from France. And he is now in his second term as Chairman of New York's non-profit Film Forum.

Talking with him about acquiring and distributing arthouse and international films today, he speaks more like a missionary for world cinema. "These are the classics of tomorrow," Lorber proclaimed, "The films that will become emblematic of moments in cinema."

He talks a lot about concerns that some of these films might be forgotten and he is focusing his business around the acclaimed movies, like "The Sun," that for whatever reason haven't secured a deal for U.S. distribution.

Festivals and film critics are crucial to the livliehood of the sort of international cinema and documentaries that Richard Lorber wants to bring to U.S. screens. Programmers and writers curate, contextualize and critique new films, he explained. "It takes awhile for film to find its level," he added, "The proliferation of festivals has been a boon in terms of this curatorial aspect."

Still pursuing titles from last year's Berlin and Toronto festivals, Lorber said he is convinced there are still films to acquire, as well as a marketplace that can be carved out for those titles. He added that he feels the economic downturn is creating opportunities for his company and others.

"With all the challenges and all of the downward trends in the overall market, it's creating a buyers paradise in a way," Lorber explained, "The opportunity to get films cost effectively from the international sellers [who] are willing to creatively strike deals that are really partnerships. We look for sales agents who understand that."

Once you make the deal, though, the release requires a plan. "It's really essential to have a strategy," Lorber explained, "It doesn' mean that you'll succeed, but not having one guarantees that you'll fail." But, it's risky.

"In this environment, you have to keep your eye on not losing money, more than how much you can make." Ultimately, he noted, his goal is to build value -- via a theatrical release -- for a film's DVD and digital release. He'll be doing some day-and-date distribution at Lorber Films, via relationships with others.

"One of the upsides of the downturn has been the willingness of people to talk to each other. Everybody is trying to find ways to share information and share business opportunities." He added that he is "actively looking to partner with other companies in creative ways."

"We don't have all the answers," Lorber said, "But we're trying a lot of new tricks."