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From streaming to cinemas: careful curation with MUBI

Posted Thursday 23 June 2016 by Duncan Carson in Film Releases, General

MUBI film shelf
An eclectic selection: the film shelf in MUBI headquarters!

MUBI is an online film service, now approaching its ninth year in operation. Originally a home for hardcore cinephiles to separate their Ozu from their Ozon, it now boasts over 100,000 subscribers worldwide. MUBI’s catalogue is not the broad appeal selection of films familiar from other platforms. Instead you’re just as likely to find artists' shorts such as Peter Tscherkassky’s The Exquisite Corpus, classic films such as Billy Wilder’s Stalag 17, recent arthouse favourites like Pablo Larrain’s The Club or exclusive new work like Junun by Paul Thomas Anderson. It’s a far cry from Orange is the New Black, but MUBI have courted the affections of the film faithful through a combination of careful curation, true passion, technological smarts and market differentiation.

Now they are entering the theatrical distribution market in a big way. Having worked with New Wave Films earlier this year on an ambitious co-release of Miguel Gomes’s Arabian Nights trilogy, their slate includes Mathieu Amalric’s The Blue Room, Cannes Director’s Fortnight prize-winner The Happiest Day In The Life Of Olli Mäki and controversial Berlinale title I, Olga Hepnarová among others. We spoke to Tania Sutherland (Director of Marketing) and Chiara Marañón (Programming Director) ahead of Screening Days in Sheffield, where venues will get their first chance to see The Blue Room and meet the team from MUBI. 

MUBI films

Some of the key ways in which MUBI connects with its audience will be familiar to cinemas, as curation and a love of cinema are at the heart of everything MUBI does. Almost everyone will be familiar with the ‘thousands of channels but nothing on’ feeling that comes with multiple online subscriptions. MUBI’s advantage is its limitation: there’s only ever thirty films on the platform at a time. A new film gets added each day and the oldest drops off. With these limited options, you’re assured that the films were handpicked, rather than acquired as part of a bulk deal. Much like a cinema’s programming (carefully selecting titles to fill limited screen space from the bulging release calendar) MUBI offers a curated approach. "The model itself is what allows us to curate them. We can spend time with each film," says Chiara. "Having thirty films online at any one time makes it like a festival that everyone can attend. We like to think about it as the biggest digital cinema in the world. In a cinema, films are there for a week or two weeks and that’s the same for MUBI."

As much as MUBI takes cues from the cinema experience, they aren’t keen to replace the big screen. "The dark room and the big screen; those very physical elements are key to me. The level of commitment you have with a film when you are in a cinema is completely different," says Chiara. "We release films theatrically because we believe in the cinema fundamentally. But not everyone lives in London or Paris, so if these films are on MUBI they’re able to access them."

MUBI

The platform has changed a lot since its inception under the banner of The Auteurs. Originally, the company’s film listings segregated films into ‘MUBI’ and ‘Not a MUBI’: true auteur cinema… and material that fell a little short of that. Today, although they’re a broader church, they are still partial. "We’re an opinionated brand and we want to be perceived as such, because we’re here to propose some films to you." That said, they’re not the kind of people to look askance at your interest in Magic Mike XXL. "The context is what we’re good at building: any film in the right context can be open for analysis," says Tania. "You can be serious about not serious films. We want to be very inclusive and present an eclectic branch of film and create unexpected links between them."

That eclecticism extends to broadening the availability of titles available in the UK. Film fans who look enviously at festival reports, praying for a screening on our shores, often get their chance via MUBI. Isiah Medina’s 88:88 is a good example: lauded at Toronto and Locarno, this highly experimental debut feature would be a risky proposition for theatrical distribution. MUBI took up the opportunity to release the film worldwide exclusively, only a few short months after its festival debut. "It’s an opportunity for young filmmakers to get their film out: one push of a button and it’s online," says Tania. "Relatively soon, the theatrical dream for films, which I completely understand, is going to mutate. Films like 88:88, the whole life of the film is digital. Lots of films can have a different life: a year in festivals and then online."

MUBI film

MUBI sees a future with many filmmakers electing this model as the best choice for their project. Unlike a cinema, which must rely on capturing audiences on a film-by-film basis, MUBI’s job is to maintain audiences and subscribers. Novelty and risk play a bigger part in this environment. "There are new ways of making films that we definitely want to support. We are a home for new projects and new distribution models. There’s a new audience for that," says Tania. One such partner was Paul Thomas Anderson, who, as a subscriber and a fan of the service, directly approached MUBI to be the home for his unconventional medium-length music documentary Junun.

When asked for the secret of their success at gaining regular subscribers for material that isn’t surefire box office gold, MUBI refer to their partnerships, especially with organisations outside film. It’s people who are generally interested in culture – music, museums, literature – that appreciate MUBI: people with limited time to browse who want assurance that they will see something compelling. Besides that, it’s passionate, considered curation that is its USP. I wanted to know what comes first when selecting films: rights availability, balancing the titles available on the platform, things that have proven track record or simply personal preference? "Curation is at the absolute core of our model. Curation comes first, but it inherently implies balance, and the will of establishing a dialogue with our audience, and a desire of growing that audience every day with every new film," Chiara tells me. "It also involves dealing with rights availability, but even if we are ultimately limited to the confines of what is possible, we really try to push boundaries and think out of the box."

MUBI’s mission seems to be to help you find the next film you love that you’ve never heard of so I was keen to ask the team which films they’ve discovered while working on the platform. "I was finally able to watch Nicholas Ray's In a Lonely Place, which I absolutely recommend to any film noir fan," says Tania. "And one of my recent favourites is the newly restored version of Masculin Féminin by Jean-Luc Godard, which is a pure gem." Of the hundreds of titles Chiara has watched for the service, she picks out "O Futebol (On Football), a film about football without football in it, which is now playing on MUBI in synch with the Euro 2016. A very small movie that truly deserves an audience. A moving father-son relationship that reflects at the same time on the possibilities of cinema; a little big film." 

10 Years of Second Run: the UK's best DVD distributor?

Posted Thursday 10 September 2015 by Duncan Carson in Film Releases

Second Run montage

This Friday sees the first theatrical release from one of the UK’s best DVD labels, Second Run. Horse Money is the latest film from Portugal’s Pedro Costa, lauded at festivals worldwide for its amazing use of light and deep dive into the world of Ventura, a Cape Verdean living in Lisbon. We sat down with Mehelli Modi to talk about what makes a Second Run film, refusing to eat unless shown cinema and what films he’s been proudest to be part of.

Did you always have an interest in film?
My father and my mother were both in filmmaking. Almost from the time I was born I remember the bits of 35mm film lying everywhere. I’m told when I was two years old I would never eat my food unless I had a film to watch. It was part of my DNA when I was growing up. Televisions and cinemas would show amazing films when we would travel. They would have seasons of Bresson and Antonioni. All that has disappeared now. All of that taught me about people and cultures.

I came to England to do my chartered accountancy and eventually ended up in the music business. Over the years that business changed and it became much more marketing orientated and then artists were no longer given the time to develop properly. So I moved away from there to go back to my first love, the cinema.

How does Second Run select its titles?
They’re all films I’ve seen and they’re all films I’d like other people to see. Second Run began life in September 2005. I was an avid DVD collector. The advent of DVD was great for me as you could see films in pretty good condition and in the right aspect ratio. You could order DVDs from all over the world. But many of the films I wanted to see were just not available anywhere on DVD. Apitchatpong Weerasethakul’s early films for example.

We started with Classic cinema. To bring back things that needed to breathe again. Central and East European cinema especially: Hungarian, Czech and Polish films that had been completely lost from view. Strangely, I had seen a lot of these films when I was growing up in India, which was then a non-aligned nation. The Americans greatly influenced my country through exporting Hollywood cinema. So the Soviet bloc tried to do the same. As a result, films from the Soviet bloc countries would come to India but no one would see them except me! Even here in the UK only the big names made it over, like Andrzej Wajda. So that was a big focus for me, to get those into view again. We cannot stop releasing DVDs: some of these films will never be HD mastered, 35mm projection is gone, and so DVD remains one of the only ways for them to be in circulation.

Land of the Deaf
In the Land of the Deaf, an influential documentary from Nicolas Philibert, was one of Second Run's earliest titles

We release the films we love. It could have died within a year without any positive reaction. We weren’t expecting too much and they were curated without an expectation of big sales. We launched with twenty films, including Nicolas Philibert’s In the Land of the Deaf and Ron Peck’s Nighthawks, as I wanted Second Run to be seen to be as broad as possible, very much world cinema rather than any particular theme.

Few tend to know these films. It keeps our ethic evident and makes sure people work with us for the right reasons. Doing just one release a month also means you can be very clear and not put anything out just for the sake of it. We still release one film a month and sometimes supplement that with a box set. We also feel that adding context to these films is really essential. People need to understand why we think these films are worth championing and where they come from. The booklets and on-disc interviews are important for that.

Is there such a thing as a ‘Second Run type of film’?
People definitely feel there is! That’s the most amazing feedback I get, that people understand who we are.  Because there are now people and other filmmakers saying, ‘Have you seen this? Would you release this?’ I feel we’ve got across to people what we were trying to do. One of the things I’m struck by is that, unlike in my previous industry, almost everyone we meet in film is actually really kind and generous to us. We’re not a threat to the studios! There’s a camadarie and respect between the UK’s other excellent specialist labels: Arrow, BFI and the Masters of Cinema.


Daisies
Daisies, now becoming a cult classic, is one of Second Run's bestselling titles

Have any films become much larger than you would have guessed?
Věra Chytilová’s Daisies is a good example. When we first released it, no one really came to watch it. We were dragging people into see it, with maybe 10 or 12 people in the audience. Last year we did Wilton's Music Hall for Scalarama and it was completely packed out. Now there's a whole new audience for it, many between 15 and 25 years old.

It’s a slow build with our films and you have to keep working at it all the time. Not many companies have that time to devote to each release. In the ‘70s music business, artist development was so important and I follow that model. You take time and build a catalogue that lets you do that. No one thing in particular keeps you afloat.

Are there particular films that have been highlights for you?
One film is František Vlácil's Marketa Lazarova.  It had never even been released on home video in its own country. It’s almost three hours long, in black and white, widescreen, Czech language, set in the snow and the director was no longer alive. How do you promote a film like that? But I have always wanted to release it and it surprised me the most. People reacted to this amazing film. It slowly became one of our better sellers. Now even Criterion and the Czechs have released it on home video. 

Apitchatpong too, of course. We released Blissfully Yours, which had never been released theatrically in the UK. And his Tropical Malady had also not been released on home video here. The films of Miklós Jancsó were a definite highlight. A major filmmaker, whose work was no longer seen in the UK. Curzon cinemas did a weekend of his films and we brought Mr Jancsó over and went with him from London to Edinburgh screening his films. We’ve now released five of his films and I was very happy that his work began to be seen again before he passed away at the age of 92 last year.

Marketa Lazarova
Marketa Lazarova: denied a release in its country of origin, Second Run have led the way for its resurgence in recent years

It’s your tenth year as a distributor. Was it a conscious decision to do your first theatrical film release now?
It wasn’t a planned thing. With Second Run DVD, the idea was to also release the work of great contemporary filmmakers whose films were not seen in the UK. Now there are many contemporary filmmakers whose great work is never seen even in the cinema, where it should be seen. We wanted to see if we could bring the same kind of ethos to selecting a film and releasing it theatrically. It happened organically. Horse Money hadn’t been picked up at the time and Pedro Costa was very happy to experiment with us and he’s prepared a lot of materials for us. Our approach is curatorial and it’s in the hands of the filmmakers. If there is a response to this, there are many other filmmakers that I’d like to release theatrically. Even renowned filmmakers have problems now with releasing the next film they make!

And what’s your relationship with Pedro Costa?
I met Pedro Costa because I met Apichatpong and he put me in touch with Pedro, who has now put me in touch with Víctor Erice and Lav Diaz. First of all though, Pedro is for me one of contemporary cinema’s most important filmmakers. And it’s not just his own films, but his knowledge of cinema from around the world. He has the history of cinema in his head. He’s also been shooting his later films on digital and shows you what can be done using digital.

Horse Money
Ventura, star of Horse Money and many other Pedro Costa films, which is released in UK cinemas on 18th September

Why does the specific space of the cinema matter to you?
I grew up watching films with people. Whatever you do in the first fifteen years of life ends up being very important in what you do! Films were made for people to watch together. I am a 35mm purist I must say, but have learnt to accept and move with technology.

Is there anything you’re desperate to release that’s yet to see the light of day?
Many of things that I thought would never see the light of day are now out there! Rivette’s Out 1 is now being released here thanks to Arrow. Aleksei Gherman’s early films I would love to release now that Hard to be a God is out. Kira Muratova, whose work is totally unseen in the UK. Her early work is stunning. We were moving ahead with her films but then the Russians walked into the Ukraine! Barbara Loden’s Wanda is another. The list doesn’t get any smaller!

Khrustalyov, My Car!
Khrustalyov, My Car!: One of the late Aleksei German's films that Second Run would be keen to distribute

What’s the team like at Second Run?
Well, there’s two and a half people, myself included! We’re only there because the filmmakers made these wonderful things and because of the response we get from people, the complete help and love we’ve had from people over time. If we took funds from outside investors, the agenda would inevitably change. And so we have to do it ourselves somehow. People react to what we do because it’s not cynical. It means we remain at a boutique level from choice.

And finally, what effect has Second Run and cinema had on you?
It’s made me into a more empathetic person. It’s brought me amazing friends. It’s kept me happy. I’ve been incredibly lucky to do something I love. I don’t mind working all the hours in a day. I find that as the world gets more conscious of money, as a reaction, there’s another group who keeps things alive because they love them.

Self-distribution in action: Beyond Clueless

Posted Thursday 12 February 2015 by Sarah Rutterford in Film Releases, General

Beyond Clueless

Released nationwide on the 23rd January, Beyond Clueless has been variously hailed as a "hypnotic, narcotic and dreamlike cine-essay about the contemporary American teen movie phenomenon" (by the Guardian), as "vibrant, funny and subversive" (by Dazed & Confused) and as "a commentary that will fair set your British teeth on edge" (by the Daily Mail). The film has been a labour of love for its director Charlie Lyne (previously better known as creator of Ultra Culture) and all who've worked on it from its Kickstarter inception to its innovative, lo-fi and very personal UK release, the style of which chimes perfectly with the film's theme and teenage aesthetic. Below, Charlie and Dom Rafferty (the designer behind much of the film's print marketing) answer questions about Beyond Clueless and its self-distribution strategy.

Charlie Lyne, director

What were your initial inspirations for making this film?

I've always been obsessed with the teen genre, which as an adolescent was totally natural I guess, but for whatever reason it was never something that I grew out of. When I was fifteen, those movies were a prism through which to view the world. Now that I'm older, they're a prism through which to view my teenage self.

Which films referenced in Beyond Clueless provoke the most nostalgia in you – and why?

The 2004 teen sex comedy EuroTrip is a film that means an immense amount to me. Initially because it caught me at just the right moment when I was a teenager, eager to be swept up in a world of illicit thrills and casual nudity, but it's also a film that's meant something different to me each time I've revisited it. Like most people's favourite teen movies, it's not a major hit or a critical darling, but a film that spoke to me at just the right moment.

Why did you decide to self-distribute?

We'd done distribution deals in various other countries through our sales agent, but when it came to the UK we were wary of being a small film on a big slate, especially having seen how easy it is for those films to get lost in the whirlwind of the average UK release week. We figured we would be able to put in the kind of time that a distributor couldn't afford to spend on such a small, idiosyncratic film, and make sure that every screening felt like a proper event.

Can you describe your marketing plans for the film? What kind of audience and trends were you trying to tap into? What were the surprises?

We knew there was an audience of some kind for the film because it was crowd-funded in the first place. The challenge was working out how best to reach that audience in the real world, which is obviously much more difficult than on a global platform like Kickstarter. We decided to focus on a small number of hand-tailored screenings (most of which I did Q&As at) rather than trying to book in a bunch of shows at each site. That way we could encourage all the potential audience members in a given town to get together on a specific night, which gave each screening the feeling of an event. The main surprise was how enthusiastic people were. It wasn't half as difficult as we'd expected to get people out to the screenings, even on a Wednesday afternoon in Aberdeen.

We worked with Dom to make bespoke posters for each of the venues screening the film, and also with the ICO to decide on accompanying films we might want to show with it (for example, it's screening in a double-bill with The Craft at the Gulbenkian in Canterbury and is heading the Teens Rule OK! season at the QUAD in Derby). Other venues have offered live scores or have put on prom nights to get the audience in the mood.

Beyond Clueless posters

What are the benefits of going to the extra effort of ‘curating’ the run of the documentary in this way?

Selfishly, it makes it much more fun for us, because each of the screenings feels unique and exciting. And I think people can tell that they're getting something distinctive even if they've not been following what we've been doing in each city. It really doesn't involve that much more effort than a traditional screening either - most of the time it was just a case of buying a few red party cups and putting together a Spotify playlist - but it allows the audience to get much more out of the experience.

How did you work to secure screenings around the UK? And what has it been like presenting the film to regional audiences?

We tried to just be as honest as possible with everybody. There was no point us pretending that we had the biggest film of 2015 on our hands, so instead we just explained to exhibitors what the film was, who it would hopefully appeal to, and everything we would be doing to promote it. Four stars from Peter Bradshaw didn't hurt either.

What are your major lessons from self-distribution so far?

I have learned, by heart, the relative merits of the Wi-Fi services offered by every major British rail operator. 

Dom Rafferty, designer

Can you talk us through how you came up with the idea for the Beyond Clueless posters for the QUAD in Derby, Chapter Arts Centre in Cardiff and the Gulbenkian Cinema in Canterbury?

The brief was to come up with some simple, two-tone designs with a DIY aesthetic, which could be easily and cheaply reproduced. Predictably I started by looking at punk-era DIY flyers and gig posters, and I wanted to capture some of that sense of chance composition and teenage excitement. The graphics in the film are all hand-done, so it seemed natural that my lettering should be too.

But Beyond Clueless is strictly concerned with the explosion of teen films in the '90s and 2000s, and I also wanted to reflect something of the fashion from those times. Although Clueless itself only features briefly in the documentary, this seemed like like an ideal source of inspiration. So the three posters with plaid (obviously!), tie-dye and stars are all inspired by specific outfits from that film.

What was inspirational to you about this particular project?

I spent much of my time at school drawing lettering in the back of exercise books, so there was a bit of enjoyable nostalgia about this project. I really like one of the official posters for the film, which features the hand-lettered labels of rows of VHS tapes. This was a nice aesthetic to tap into, and it brought back good memories of decorating mix tapes as a teenager in the '90s.

Beyond Clueless

The whole tone of the film and of the release has been really DIY. Do you think this opens up possibilities for overstretched cinema marketing departments?

The appeal of the DIY approach is the same now as it has always been. There's something very liberating and exciting about being able to put something together cheaply that can be reproduced easily and getting it out there without big corporate backing. In some ways computers have aided this, but I really wanted to retain a sense of sitting down and doing something imperfect by hand with these posters. The way Beyond Clueless has been marketed and distributed is very DIY in today's terms, so hopefully it's a good match.

What other film design projects are you working on?

At the moment I'm also working on a series of large screen printed posters for classic sci-fi films. A whole different look!

Thank you, Charlie and Dom!

Beyond Clueless is screening at cinemas including the QUAD in Derby, the Gulbenkian in Canterbury and the Broadway in Nottingham throughout February and March. For dates see www.beyondclueless.co.uk and for more advice from Charlie on self-distribution, see "10 weird tricks to self-releasing a film in the UK".

Experience Japan through cinema - at a venue near you!

Posted Tuesday 27 January 2015 by Sarah Rutterford in Film Releases, General

Wood Job
Wood Job, dir. Shinobu Yaguchi

Since 2004, the Japan Foundation in London has organised the fantastic Japan Foundation Touring Film Programme in close partnership with distinguished film venues and programme advisors throughout the UK. It's one of only a few contemporary programmes that tours beyond London to present new Japanese cinema to regional audiences.

Each year, a list of Japanese titles is put together under a carefully chosen theme designed to highlight new trends in Japanese cinema and showcase the versatility and unique qualities displayed by Japanese filmmakers.The programme also showcases directors and works which may have slipped under the radar of other film festivals or tours.

This year’s programme, soon to screen at cinemas nationwide, is a vastly exciting array of films themed under the narrative framework of ‘encounters’. Showcasing a wide variety of styles and tones, via popular contemporary films and acclaimed classics through to animation, the programme includes titles in which characters experience seemingly unusual meetings, plunge into unexpected circumstances and new environments, as well as collide with different generations, ideals and ideas – asking the question: does it really only happen in the movies?

Scattered Clouds
Scattered Clouds dir. Mikio Naruse (c)1967 Toho Co., Ltd.

The film list includes titles as diverse as Mikio Naruse's glorious classic Scattered Clouds, Mipo O's stunningly beautiful drama The Light Shines Only There (Japan's entry for Best Foreign Film for this year's Oscars), innovative dystopian animations from directors including Akira's Katsuhiro Otomo in Short Peace, and Shinobu Yaguchi's (Waterboys, Swing Girls) superb new coming-of-age story Wood Job, based on the Shion Miura novel. Yaguchi is a special guest of the tour and will be appearing at screenings at the ICA, QUAD, Showroom and Watershed.

The programme opens at the ICA in London this Friday 30th January, and titles from the season are booked to screen at venues nationwide including Watershed in Bristol, Showroom In Sheffield, QUAD in Derby, mac in Birmingham, QFT in Belfast, Broadway in Nottingham and Filmhouse in Edinburgh. For the complete list of venues, click here

And if you programme an independent cinema and are interested in hosting the programme, it's available for further bookings: visit the Japan Foundation website for contact details to enquire.

Jinx
Jinx!!! dir. Naoto Kumazawa

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