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BERNEY ON LOYALTY AND THE CHANGING ARTHOUSE BIZ

The Reeler has a good interview up with Picturehouse’s Bob Berney who soberly assesses the U.S. market for foreign-language films in the wake of last week’s announcement that Wellspring is closing.

I was encouraged by a few things that Berney said. One was that he’s still in the business of buying a film because he believes in the director and his or her future potential. “I’m probably going to make a deal for Lukas Moodysson’s new film,” Berney said, ” but it’s also hoping he’ll make a bigger film later that we can get.” I’m also a huge fan of Moodysson — I pretty much love the way he shoots and cuts — and admire that Berney is sticking with Moodysson through his fruitful but difficult experimental phase. (He previously picked up the director’s shocking depiction of consumer psychology gone wild, A Hole in My Heart.) A few years ago, it seemed that some of the larger distributors were in the business of cultivating great directors by taking chances on their early work. Last year I was really surprised that none of the bigger companies bought The Beat My Heart Skipped just to get in bed with its wildly talented and genre-proficient director Jacques Audiard.

Of course, Wellspring was the company that did pick up the film as it did another great art title, Kings and Queens, another favorite of mine. It’s the latter film that, without naming it, Berney thinks would have a hard time getting picked up today: “It’s still tough when you think of a classic French art film–it’s still consdered an art film, and I think the mini-majors aren’t buying as many,” he says.

What’s the recipe for success in the foreign language market? Berney thinks it involves tapping into the growing U.S. market for Spanish-language films as he plans to with the upcoming Pan’s Labyrinth as well as identifying and promoting films that promise a more intense rush than mainstream American cinema:

“I think 13 Tzameti can be marketed as an intense experience. I think you just have to push the film and a director as something that’s completely different. If it’s the same old movie–the same kind of French love story–you know, it’s hard. But if it’s some striking new director, you’ve got a shot. I mean, 13 Tzameti is not only in French, but also black-and-white. A real challenge. But it’s also a great, adrenaline-surprise movie. You have to take each one one-at-a-time and try to go beyond just putting it at Lincoln Plaza if you can. You’re going to do so much business there, but it’s everywhere else where you want to find an angle.

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