If the audience was the first and only one voting for the popularity of films, I would trust the "invisible hand of the free market" (supply/demand direct self-regulation, if such thing is conceivable for cultural goods)... unfortunately, films are pushed into a niche depending on preconceived formats and speculations. There are films born under a lucky star, because they are engineered since the start to become an easygoing mainstream commodity that will fit all. Ultimately successful or not at the Box Office, they will enjoy the easy life, every step of the way, thanks to money and an influential protection.
Then there are the underdogs. Not only they struggle with a Spartan budget, and a less appealing final product due to cheaper production value, but once the film is all done, they also have to face a second class distribution that is sure to bury them. When you make an art-film, a challenging film, a non-conventional film (or even a commercial drama or documentary in a foreign language) the maximum audience base that it could reach in theory is already much more limited than any mainstream drama. This is an empirical fact : people interested in mainstream entertainment will always outnumber the art film scene. That's how humanity works, there is more demand for distraction than for pure culture. Nothing wrong with that, and we can't blame the press for not attracting enough public...
Even if admissions were free, and every potential viewer was available and willing, this maximum niche would still be in minority, even for the greatest films. In fact it is generally the opposite we expect. The movies attracting the most comprehensive audience are usually rather mediocre artistically. But it's OK. I respect this law of the market, each get the popularity they deserve. And art doesn't require the democratic majority to leave a mark in history.
However, what bothers me is when the market is forged artificially to favor a certain class of movies and intentionally undermines the self-limited success of other films. Even if this corruption of the system is more or less legal, by way of injecting amounts of money that smaller producers/distributors could never match, it is unfairly killing a competition that couldn't even claim a dangerous share of the cake under ideal conditions.
Why refuse an equal chance to reach the audience to all films? The audience will make a free choice and each film will get the audience share their popularity/quality deserves. Art films are not stealing any sizeable audience share from the big blockbusters, so why deny them an accessible distribution, for the sake of cultural diversity?
|COMMERCIAL CONFORMITY = ProBuzz||MARGINAL NICHE = KillBuzz|
(anything by major studios, mainstream appeal, formulaic format, TV-cast compliant)
(Independent projects, Non-domestic imports, Documentaries, Short films, Experimental cinema)
At the very least, the standard ticket price, equal for every show and every film, is one of the most fundamental basis for the democratisation of film culture. It's not because they are rare that we pay more to see them. It's not because their budget is bigger than they charge us more. Unfortunately this equal footing at the box office is changing, with the 3D shows, the Imax shows, the gala screenings...
This alternative market isn't marginal because only unpopular or unsuccessful films are herded there. The commercial circuit is full of flops! And commercial flops get the same fair distribution scope as blockbusters.
The artfilm market is marginal because it is marginalised in its very conception, before the films get a chance to seduce an audience and become popular and successful and profitable. There are great art films, mass-appeal gems, that are buried in this second class distribution route just because they were not endorsed by the "commercial system".
All this contributes to make an originally small potential audience even smaller, by discouraging the expecting fans, by killing the buzz, by tiring out the anticipation, by denying visibility, by outshining its publicity, by giving a worse experience to the few who eventually make it to a screening.
The mainstream fans have it easy, everything comes directly to them without any effort.
The artfilm fans need a lot of efforts and patience and attention to catch the rare screenings available... when the films are available at all.
This is not fair.
Of course, film critics don't care about that, cause they have their private press screenings, junket invitations, gala screenings, they go to festivals, or more generally live in an active cinéphile city... these are privileges that the widest majority of their readers don't enjoy!
In a society supporting the development of culture and protecting its easy access, we should never let money become a factor in the visibility of work of art! Either because it costs more to make for the smaller filmmakers, or because its underdog distribution is treated unfairly, or because it costs more (in time and money and effort) to the audience to pick one film over another one. These conditions leave the market decide what type of culture gets a chance to touch and influence the population. Big studios choose what popular culture will be, and they choose to dumb it down. The cinephile culture is condemned, under these circumstances, to stay a rarity reserved to the elite and the privileged. It is a minority, but it shouldn't be a ghetto.