31 janvier 2012

Festival Télérama 2012

This exceptional "festival" organised every year (15th edition) by French cultural newspaper Télérama, brings back on COMMERCIAL screens (that participate to the event, it is more than 1 event in one museum where films get only screened once by an art-friendly institution and only in NYC for example...) for a week the "best films" of the previous year. The choices are Télérama's taste, subjective and idiosyncratic, but they are amongst the most important films. Naturally slightly biased in favour of French films (a third of 15 selected) because the event is a reflection of the French (artfilm) zeitgeist, but as you see it is no way overwhelming (1 is a Finnish co-prod, another is belgium), it roughly corresponds to the proportion of French-language films on the admission market in France. The rest being all foreign (and not ONLY from Hollywood!).
So for most of these films this is a theatrical re-run (only a couple are still running at the moment because their release was in the past few months). And look at how many screens they get! It's more than on the USA market, on first run, when the novelty appeal is at the maximum... There are still arthouse exhibitors wanting to screen artfilms on second-run! There are still spectators who want to watch these (second-hand) films, months after the marketing campaign of the première!

Look how many screens Kaurismaki's deadpan-grim-comedy gets... it reaches the "blockbuster" level of distribution, which is almost equivalent to 3000 screens on the USA market, where it only came out on 23 screens. One important factor is that the film is originally shot in French language, with French actors... but it's very much a Kaurismaki style, meaning an acquired taste and a very limited "niche" for art film lovers. Well, in France, it still sells as well as a commercial event movie!

If A Separation had the same distribution in the USA it would open on over 1200 screens! Can you imagine the shock? This is what Americans call a "Wide Release", meaning reaching out nationwide, beyond just NYC, LA and Chicago... there is no home advantage for an Iranian film, it is considered a foreign film on both markets. I don't know how many screens it was released on in Iran, but it was some kind of a "blockbuster" at home (even if it is somehow critical of the government!) How do you explain that the totalitarian Iranian government is LESS discriminatory against this pamphlet than the American market is where it is totally harmless to the dominant ideologies? You can see on IMDb that many countries smaller than the USA opened it on more screens!

There are 7 times more screens on the USA market than in France. So the middle column indicates the equivalent of screens for a larger market like the USA. Not only for these few films listed here, but for most artfilms, the distribution in the USA isn't equivalent to what is happening in France, but also INFERIOR to the raw numbers a market 7 times smaller like France! The 40000 American screens cannot show as many art films as the 5000 French screens... go figure. Even if you suck at math, if you can't read graphs... this is a situation pretty easy to grasp for anybody. It becomes obvious that the concept of an "arthouse" niche has a very different meaning in the USA.
The only titles that have a better USA distribution are 2 American films, Drive and Black Swan. Remember this event is only a RE-RUN of films that already had their full commercial first-run (see comment below)

Titles re-run commercial screens (France; Jan 2012) x 7 (FR-USA screen ratio) commercial first-run screens (USA 2011)
Le Havre (FR-Finland) 414 [B] 2898 23 [I]
Les Neiges du Kilimandjaro (FR) 234 [M] 1638 not released
A Separation (Iran) 176  [M] 1232 31 [I]
La guerre est déclarée (FR) 148  [M] 1036 not released
L'Exercice de l'Etat (FR) 145  [M] 1015 not released
Drive (USA) 136 [M] 952 2904 [B]
Habemus Papam (Italy) 134  [M] 938 not released
Incendies (Canada) 117  [M] 819 90 [N]
Il était une fois en Anatolie (Turkey) 107  [M] 749 1 [I]
La Piel que Habito (Spain) 105  [M] 735 116 [N]
Black Swan (USA) 100  [M] 700 2407 [B]
Tomboy (FR) 90 [N]  630 9 [I]
Le Gamin au vélo (Belgium) 80  [N]  560 not released
Les bien-aimés (FR) 41  [N]  287 not released
Essential Killing (USA) 20 [N]  140 not released
[B] = Blockbuster distribution ;  [M] = Mainstream distribution ;   [N]  = Niche distribution ; [I] = Near Invisible

The middle column (FR-USA screen ratio) is the number of screens the film should get IF the USA market was the equivalent to 7 times France, which is the ratio between available screens on each market. It gives an indication to convert the numbers in a scale more familiar to USA box office numbers.
The French films (or French language films) benefit from hometurf advantage, so it's unfair to compare them directly to a distribution inside English-language territory. Most of them aren't even distributed anyway. We know what range of distribution they will get though...
However the American films get almost the same treatment on the French market, inside a French-language territory, than at home.
Drive was released on 363 screens max during its first-run in France, which is the equivalent to 2541 screens on the USA market.
Black Swan was released on 472 screens max during its first-run in France, which is the equivalent to 3304 screens on the USA market.
Notwithstanding the fact that half of the most important films of 2011 (according to Télérama) haven't been released in the USA, the few that did get picked up by American distributors are not given the mainstream distribution that they get in France, and for some, not even a Niche distribution... just a pity screening, out of spite.

For reference, Intouchables, the latest French-made blockbuster, reached 898 screens nationwide (which corresponds to 6286 screens for the USA market, twice the blockbuster level), with over 18 million spectators so far. And the new local blockbuster sensation "La vérité si je mens 3" was released this week on 1027 (which is the level of an American blockbuster like an Harry Potter carpet-bombing distribution in France, the maximum number of screens we see given to a single film on the French market)

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