02 novembre 2011

Fit in to get distributed in the USA (Krohn)

-Cultural Diversity Awareness- 

Trois conseils d'un ami américain. Un art de la guerre à l'usage des cinéastes français
Bill Krohn (CinémAction, Quelle diversité face à Hollywood?; 2002)
"[..] Ces petites salles sont la première ligne de défense du cinéma français et du cinéma du monde (world cinema), auquel on peut goûter à Paris comme nulle part au monde. chérissez-les et protégez-les; chérissez et protégez Studio Canal ; et bien sûr, défendez "l'Avance", quels que soient ses défauts, bec et ongles s'il le faut [..]"
This article is published in a French revue (CinémAction), translated in French, for a French readership, and he still patronizes us about our art houses circuit, as if nobody remembered L'exception française because of the success of UGC (which is far from a trust, with the healthy competition of Pathé-Gaumont and MK2), patronizes us about "L'avance sur recette" (the subsidies program) which happens to be attacked by the USA-WTO-MPA. I don't think that the French system is in danger of extinction, and the help is not going to come from a wiseass American who feels like giving "advice" to the French, totally oblivious of the fundamental flaws of his own industry. Oh the irony!

He continues by citing the hypothetical example of a French filmmaker hoping to distribute a film in the USA to cover the production expenses :
"Bien sûr, nous ne pourrions que nous féliciter si votre film était distribué aux Etats-Unis, mais quasiment aucun film étranger ne l'est. Chez nous, aujourd'hui, les exploitants ont construit trop de salles, de sorte que la diffusion des films étrangers est probablement un peu élevée : cela se produit chaque fois qu'il y a des écrans à remplir et qu'Hollywood n'a pas produit assez - même si ce n'est pas tout à fait le cas aujourd'hui avec le surplus de films réalisés avant la grève des scénaristes et des acteurs qui n'a jamais eu lieu. [..]"
He seems to find totally normal that the USA doesn't screen foreign films, only in exceptional cases when the yearly production of films by Hollywood is too few (because of a strike) for the large number of screens... Apparently foreign films are considered as "fillers" in the USA, they wouldn't be screened for their own worth, just to save exhibitors when Hollywood doesn't make enough crap per week... Such fatalism is appalling.
OK let's take a look at 2001, the year before he wrote this article. 
  • USA production : 611 films
  • USA commercial releases : 462 titles
  • USA screens : 36764 screens
  • Foreign films admissions : 5.7% (up from 3.9% in 2000)
There is no deficit of films, since the USA always releases less films in theatres than they produce (until very recently). And he assumes that the peak to almost 6% makes the USA a Samaritan of foreign cinema for that year... The number of screens has not much to do with how many films you need to fill up each weekly batch, especially if people all watch the same films at the same time (blockbuster mentality). The number of screens only indicates whether a population has access to a screen near where they live or not, thus boosting the number of regular movie goers. But avid movie goers could all flock to watch the 3 blockbusters of the week, every week, which they do, since the non-commercial titles only open on 1 to 6 screens, euphemistically called a "limited release".

He then proceeds to give "intercultural" advice to French filmmakers/producers who wish to make it in America...
  1. Never draw attention to the foreign language by making a wordless trailer, or shoot a film in English!
  2. Shoot a dinner scene cause Americans like movies where people eat.
  3. "Joy of living" is a characteristic that appeal to the American audience (and he adds that "feel good movies" are what is lacking in Hollywood... WTF?)

"Agissez localement, pensez globalement"
Basically French films should be made for a French audience, and forget about the distribution in the USA, instead they should settle for the remake rights sold to an American studio which knows how to turn it into an American-friendly movie. 

Are these advice from a francophile critic or from a Hollywood executive? 
Instead of acknowledging the objective flaws of the Hollywood system (formulaic stereotypes, happy ending, mainstream narrative, conservative values, aversion to foreign culture, hegemonic distribution, steamrolling of cinema industries abroad...), which any educated and responsible CRITIC would do when addressing an international readership... he simply ignores the reasons why this system sucks, and blames it all on the French for not being American enough. Instead of actually giving good advice for foreign cinema to increase its niche, he, a supposedly art-cinema-friendly "critic", tell French filmmakers to sell rights for a remake and forget about the American distribution market altogether. Are you for real??? 

He adds the address of a French videostore in LA, who has connections, to send a video copy (direct-to-video) to be rented to American producers looking for good stories to rip off for their next remakes... 

I can't believe a film critic could be so blinded by his own isolationism... If an actual film critic with credentials (e.g. writing for Cahiers) thinks with this mentality, and believe that he's helping French cinema by telling us to stop trying to get a normal distribution, and sell remake material instead... then it's no wonder that the average American audience is even dumber than that (i.e. not even watching French films on video). The American film press is hopeless, these guys are not the generation that will upgrade the USA to world standards of cultural diversity and open-mindedness.

I'm not worried about the exports of French cinema, since it's the 2nd largest exporter in the world (see here), far behind the USA. And France is also the second best foreign cinema in the USA after the UK (which is a surrogate franchise of Hollywood) with 1.5% of the market (see here). 
What I'm worried about is the rest of the world, which doesn't benefit from the (relative) fame of "French cinema" amongst the hispters. If France, which produces quality commercial blockbusters (i.e. popular entertainment such as Amélie, La Mome, Coco Chanel...) that have a natural appeal to a wide audience, which produces world-class art films, is brushed off the board by a "cinephile-friendly" critic, then what chance would a Thai film or a Hungarian film would have? (see here, here, here and here)
This is an outrageous status-quo that too many American intellectuals take for granted at best, or find perfectly normal at worst. The inertia of the Hollywood business is one thing, explainable because of the enormous sums of money involved, etc. It's a logic that executives and publicists may hide behind, for the sake of business... But when intellectuals (critics, historians, cinephiles) accept this situation, AND speak out loud in public in favour of this anti-art-cinema, anti-foreign-cinema system, this is a serious failure of the intelligentsia.... if we can still call it that.

Thanks Bill Krohn for your advice, but no thanks, it is not helping, at all. It's not helping French cinema. It's not helping American culture.


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