EI work session about Relationship between Sales agents and Festivals in Morocco

Screen daily / Press review by Martin Dale « Europa International holds 3-day event in Morocco »

One of the longstanding objectives of the Marrakech film festival, now in its 13th edition, has been to foster stronger ties with industry professionals.

A major step forward was taken this year, by virtue of two parallel events. On the one hand, within the context of the fest’s tribute to Scandinavian cinema, a 44-person delegation from the 5 Nordic countries visited the fest, including film institute prexies, directors, producers and actors.

Equally importantly, the sales agents’ international organization, Europa International, founded in 2011 and managed by Daphne Kapfer, organized a 3-day event at the fest that brought together associates and festival organisers in order to discuss common standards and best practices to optimise the key relationship between sales agents and festivals.

Representatives from Europe’s leading sales agents attended the event, including Hannah Horner of Doc & Film Intl, Valeska Neu of Films Boutique, Laura Talsma of Fortissimo Films, Ariane Buhl of Gaumont, Jill Rosen of Hanway Films, Marine Goulois of Les Films du Losange, Freja Johanne of Level K, Nicholas Kaiser of Memento International, Sergi Steegman of The Match Factory, Arnaud Bouaziz of Urban Distribution International, Esther Devos of Wild Bunch and Matthias Angoulvant of Wide Management.
Festival representatives and guests included the heads of the Scandinavian film institutes, the BFI’s festival consultant Simon Duffy,  Karlovy Vary’s artistic director Karel Och, Filmair Services’ Olivier Maurice and Munich film fest’s programmer Susana Borges Gomes.

The main discussion session was held on Day 2, Thursday, moderated by Leslie Vuchot of The Festival Agency. The session focused around three core areas – standardizing information requirements for festivals, harmonizing technical requirements and optimizing the relationship between festivals, sales agents and talent.

The key backdrop to the debate is the exponential increase in the number of film festivals taking place around the world, which participants estimated has doubled over the last 5 years.

On one level, this poses issues of trust and reliability, since participants felt that whereas they are familiar with certain festivals and know how to deal with all the logistical and talent-related issues, in other cases the festivals are unknown quantities – which obliges special care in handling the respective relationship.
Given that the festival circuit constitutes a parallel market to the main commercial circuit, sales agents are also concerned that excessive screenings in festivals in some territories may eliminate the chances of signing a theatrical distribution agreement with local distributors – which thus means that extra care is required in terms of ensuring that festivals abide by the agreed screening limits.
Several tentative conclusions were reached during the discussion.
On the one hand, it was agreed that Europa International should develop a new festival information tool that would put all data related to pitching films to fests and filling in entry forms in one place, that can be accessed by fest programmers.
The core requirements for this information database should be based on consulting the information requirements prevailing at the top A-list festivals such as Berlin, Cannes, Venice, Toronto and Sundance, which could then be adjusted to other fests. The key objective is to establish a standardized film submission system that top fests would sign up for.

Secondly, the discussion focused on the importance of involving sales agents in agreements inked between fests and attending talent, since it was felt that such deals must be set against the broader sales strategy for each film.

Finally, the discussion focused on detailed technical issues related to delivering DCP packages and KDM encryption keys for digital copies of films submitted to festivals.
In this context, it was recognized that downloading speeds are not yet fast enough in order to enable films to be delivered online, although this may occur within the next 5-10 years. At present, online delivery is seen as a last resort, in order to resolve emergency situations.
Given the need for physical delivery of hard disks storing the films, participants felt that steps should be taken towards establishing an all-in-one delivery solution, in order to reduce the associated logistical costs which often eat up a high proportion of the agreed screening fees.
Participants suggested that Europa International should liaise with fests in order to establish the preferred hard drive specifications, standardized packaging requirements in order to avoid damage during transport,  and lobby against the delivery requirement that exists in certain fests, such as Berlin, for burnt-in subtitles.
One of the thorniest issues discussed at the event was whether DCP masters of the films should be submitted in an open, unencrypted format or with KDM keys.
It was noted that in the days of 35mm prints, there were obviously no encryption keys involved, which simplified the logistical considerations associated to screening films in different theatres.

However given the explosion in the number of festivals, many participants felt that the use of encryption keys has become a necessity, although it was agreed that it might be possible to establish a two-tier system, wherein trusted festivals, with whom sales agents have a long working relationship, could receive open copies.

Lundberg Pia, head of the international department at the Swedish Film Institute referred to the recent agreement inked with festivals, sales agents and producers in the Nordic countries, where a common standard based on open, unencrypted DCP masters has been agreed, and which she suggested has made the life of festivals and sales agents much easier.
Participants suggested that Europa International should study the progress of the Scandinavian model and also liaise with leading European festivals in order to discuss this issue.

Another possibility discussed was that Europa International should manage the encryption system and perhaps keep all the KDM keys.

The meeting was adjourned with recognition of the importance that can be played in this context by an umbrella organization which can help circulate information about best practices and bad experiences and lobby leading festivals in relation to the issues discussed during the session.

Europa International’s prexy, Daphne Kapfer, stated that she was highly satisfied with the progress achieved during the discussions at Marrakech and would like to repeat the experience in future editions of the festival.