Finnish Film Affair: panellists at the ‘Distribution in the Near Future’ session underlined the importance to think ‘out of the box’ and remain flexible.

Held under the aegis of Nordisk Film & TV Fond, the panel discussion on Wednesday at Helsinki’s industry event Finnish Film Affair was moderated by producer Andrea Reuter (Helsinki filmi).

On-site guests Liselott Forsman, CEO of Nordisk Film & TV Fond and Antti Toiviainen, CEO of newly-launched Finnish group Aurora Studios, were joined by online speakers Jakob Abrahamsson of NonStop Entertainment, Helene Aurø of REinvent Studios and Icelandic producer Hlin Johannesdóttir of Ursus Parvus.

Quizzed about the current situation in their respective territory, the professionals confirmed the difficult situation for cinemas, running at around 50% of their capacity due to government anti-covid restrictions, as well as production and release schedule shake ups, although Hlin Johannesdóttir stressed the exceptionally buoyant filming activity in Iceland [15 film & TV series are underway].

Antti Toiviainen mentioned the ‘tremendous job’ from small indie cinema owners in Finland who “strive to find new ways to conduct their business”, and the successful trade cinema campaign, led by cinema association Filmikamari, to lure audiences back to cinemas.  “People didn’t know if cinemas were open or not, but everyone has been very positive and even surprised by how great the cinema experience is, despite the covid restrictions,” said Toiviainen.

Seasoned Swedish distributor/exhibitor Jakob Abrahamsson gave multiple-examples of innovative initiatives to keep his business going during the challenging times, from special VOD deals with MUBI, Göteborg’s Dragon platform, private rental of cinemas and re-runs of film classics. “having classics and exceptional platform releases have lifted our revenues. New streaming players are coming in and we have to embrace this,” said Abrahamsson.

For the Swedish distributor, the crisis has only accelerated what was already happening on the market, with the traditional windowing models being challenged. “Studios aren’t majors anymore - streamers are the new majors,” claimed Abrahamsson who favours flexible windows and partnerships with the new VOD players, while firmly believing in the bright future of the cinema experience - from both ends of the arthouse and blockbuster spectrum.

Abrahamsson underlined the game-changing AMC/Universal deal - whereby Universal can put films on streaming platforms 17 days after a theatrical release - instead of the usual 60-75 days - in exchange for a share of on-demand proceeds to AMC.

“Although AMC owns Odeon Kino and Filmstaden in Sweden, this deal won’t be implemented in the Nordics. That said other US studios are in talks with some exhibitors for premium on-demand windows on specific titles; cinemas aren’t in the best position right now to negotiate,” noted Non-Stop’s CEO.

Toiviainen concurred with his Swedish counterpart on the windowing issue. “Today, we are forced to change,” he said, alluding to a soon-to-be-released Aurora Studios film, which according to him will be a model breaker.  It will be a test-but it’s the only way to proceed,” he said, enigmatic.

Bringing the windowing discussion closer to her sales and financing experience, REinvent Studios’ Helene Aurø said right holdbacks especially on TV drama have been disrupted for a while and continue to be reshaped. “We’re now seeing series going to streaming, free TV, then back to catch up VOD and catch up TV. There are no rules. On the financing side, we’re discussing shorter windows, with more players, trying to keep everybody happy. Then we’re having people wanting to show their TV dramas in cinemas. We all have to think out of the box”, she said.

Open dialogue with the Fund

Liselott Forsman stressed Nordisk Film & TV Fond’s platform-neutral distribution support. “We look at distribution as a whole, staying flexible,” she said. The head of the Fund also mentioned the arrival of new member partners, which has prompted Nordisk Film & TV Fond to evolve and “look at support with new eyes.”

Asked what type of measures would be needed to boost distribution in the Nordics, Abrahamsson said a support for ‘risk-taking’ would be most welcome. “That would entice us to try new initiatives for niche markets with Nordic or non-Nordic films,” he said.

Commenting on Wednesday's overall distribution session put together by Finnish Film Affair, Forsman said: "The session was a dialogue opener to inspire future distribution boosts, and I am happy to say that the dialogue has continued after the session."

"For the Fund it is always important to be brave and I cherish Jakob's suggestion. Another interesting thing that came up is an in-depth analysis on how audiences in different Nordic countries experience their national films compared to those of their neighbouring countries. I look very much forward to our documentary boost in 2021. Hopefully a physical one."