I hate to be the naysayer (although I always am), but Matt Dentler’s recent post about foreign cinema’s resurgence is completely naive, slightly misguided and ignores widespread changes in the global distribution of foreign cinema — a shift that I explore in this indieWIRE article, “With Creation of Dreamachine, Foreign-Language Films Face Sleepless Nights Ahead,” which explores the Celluloid/HanWay merger and what it means for the state of international art film.
Despite the celebrated success of a few very select group of studio-backed foreign indies (“The Lives of Others,” “Pan’s Labyrinth”), art-cinema is struggling around the world, according to those I spoke to for the article. Even Celluloid’s Hengameh Panahi had to confess that the business she has long staked her reputation on — by fostering the work of filmmakers like Francois Ozon and Takeshi Kitano — has irrevocably changed.
“I have to give up on my smaller films, which is hard because I love them,” Panahi told me. “At the same time, I realize there is no economy for those movies anymore.” By taking on films with less commercial potential, she said, “We’re helping the market to become more crowded and we’re helping the small distributor to be more fragile.”
Foreign-language cinema-lovers better bulk up on memory and software for their computers, because that’s exactly where these films are heading in the not-so-distant future. Now is that a bad thing? Maybe not. For Panahi, it’s the best way to keep the business healthy, and it may open the door to new audiences where art-house screens are rare. The only other option for the bulk of these smaller films, Panahi told me (which doesn’t appear in the article) is film festivals. If Matt Dentler wants to program some foreign art films at SXSW, he may be asked to pay up more dough, because it could be the only way these movies recoup until digital distribution takes off.