This year, the global film industry is returning to pretty much where it started this time around in 2021. An increase in COVID-19 infections, brought on by the omicron variant, has forced both the Sundance Film Festival (20 -January 30) and the Berlin European Film Market (February 10-17) to go all virtual for the second time in a row. Producers, financiers, international distributors and sales companies, who have seen face-to-face business transactions put on hold since early 2020, will be stuck with Zoom meetings and virtual presentations for some time to come.
“Personally, it’s disappointing but as we have seen more and more buyers cancel or decide not to travel [ahead of Sundance and Berlin] it made less and less financial sense to be there in person, ”notes Andreas Rothbauer of German sales group Picture Tree International. “When the physical deal was canceled, it was actually a relief.”
The impact of another round of online-only film festivals and markets is likely to be more psychological than financial. Sales managers got used to showing their films online – the first fully virtual film market was back in Cannes in 2020 – and business, on the whole, has been good. But after nearly two years of enforced isolation, the global film industry was counting on a Sundance and Berlin in person to mentally reboot.
“I think – more than anything – it has a serious impact on everyone’s morale and sanity,” says David Garrett of Mister Smith Entertainment. “Business continues, but I think we all miss human touch and feel like all the oxygen has been sucked out of the room. “
The overall market situation improved slightly compared to January 2021, when the price tags for CODA and Summer of the soul surprised Sundance by becoming the latest in a series of record-breaking contracts for the festival. Theaters in most territories have reopened and audiences have returned, at least for some titles. The global box office for independent films as diverse as Judas and the Black Messiah ($ 6.8 million), French crime drama The fortress ($ 18 million) and the Spanish melodrama by Pedro Almodovar Parallel mothers ($ 11 million), although well below pre-pandemic levels, are a sign of hope for the industry as a whole. And production is booming, notably thanks to increased demand from streaming platforms. “From last spring through summer we were able to make bigger movies again and they’re at the festival this year,” said Deborah McIntosh, co-director of WME Independent.
But sales are one thing, promotion is another. While the B2B work of film financing, presales, and territory deals can take place both online and off, nothing compares to an in-person festival to attract the attention of critics and the media to an area. new movie. Netflix took advantage of the lure of last year’s on-site Venice festival to successfully position Jane Campion The power of the dog, while Warner Bros. used the fever of fans in person from Venice to launch Denis Villeneuve Dune at a global box office of $ 400 million. On a smaller scale, the Toronto Festival bows to Kenneth Branagh Belfast, where the autobiographical black-and-white drama won TIFF’s coveted Audience Award, aided Focus Features both in its awards campaign and in its limited release (the film has earned some $ 7 million to date on a national level).
The marked difference between Sundance and Berlin is that the latter is still planning to host a festival in person. Sundance’s first virtual film festival in 2021 enjoyed the largest audiences in festival history, organizers said, with an estimated over 600,000 total audience views. This increased accessibility (coupled with the fact that halving festival lineup meant far less A24, Netflix, and other studio titles than in previous years) meant that smaller films were receiving disproportionate attention from the press. But this attention, many salespeople note, can be a double-edged sword. Jessica Lacy, ICM Partner, offers: “The virtual component allowed a much larger audience to see the films and comment on them midway through our sales process, which in some cases lengthened and affected the selling process. “
And while the Berlin Pivot took place a month before the festival started, the Sundance announcement only landed 15 days before, leaving little time for other arrangements. Some Sundance veterans lamented a lack of communication with industry partners and filmmakers, with several noting that there was no indication that programmers were seriously considering a digital alternative until hours before the announcement of the January 5.
On December 23, the festival unveiled new guidelines requiring in-person attendees to receive booster shots and outline field testing practices. Sundance programmers have become increasingly concerned about the wave of COVID-19 variants, which, as one insider notes, is expected to peak in Park City during festival dates. The next public communication from the festival was the online festival announcement. A statement from the Sundance Institute said in part, “We don’t think it’s safe or feasible to bring together thousands of artists, audiences, staff, volunteers and partners from around the world for a festival of eleven. days when overwhelmed communities are already struggling to provide essential services.
“None of the information Sundance has is particularly new. Omicron has been booming since November,” said a Sundance trading veteran. rushed to do Sundance or that we’ve been accepted into other festivals and come here and now, which seems like a way to keep Sundance’s hold on these films has not given us the opportunity to find a alternative.”
January 10, the title directed by Michel Hazanavicius Final cut, an on-sale title to be screened in the Sundance Premieres section, has dropped out of Sundance after going digital. The declaration of Final cut The team expressed their support for the festival, adding, “However, we believe it is best to create Final Cut in a theater with a live audience and have made the difficult decision to remove the film from this year’s festival.
As far as accommodation – both for people and movies – before Sundance’s announcement, other arrangements had started to be made. Some attendees have started swapping out accommodations and condos in Park City for more easily cancellable hotel rooms, while a sales rep says that after reserving screening rooms in Los Angeles and New York by measure precautionary. But last week’s late transition has left many former festival-goers with non-refundable accommodation fees through third-party tenants like AirBnb and VRBO. Hollywood journalist has heard housing cost losses ranging from $ 10,000 to $ 45,000.
The long-term impact of the pandemic on the international film industry is still playing out. But a worrying sign is that parts of the business film markets have been set up to serve: Movie theater owners and theatrical distributors have been the hardest hit by COVID.
“Everyone looks at their expenses and income and does the math to see if [a physical film market] makes sense to them, ”says Rothbauer. “The big unanswered question is what is the future of the film markets in general? “
This story first appeared in the January 12 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.