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Epilogue '08: HarryTuttle, R2

After our first overview of the overlooked gems of the year, let's take a look together at the various joys and dissatisfactions of cinephilia in our respective city, your favourite places and events.

I feel extremely lucky to live in one of the most cinephile-friendly cities providing a rich variety of foreign cinema in so many art houses and multiplexes. With the brand new Cinémathèque Française, the Pompidou centre, the refurbished Forum des Images which all offer a perpetual cycle of retrospectives freed of the pressure of "take-the-money-and-run" profits, with a vast park of art houses (though cramped and shabby sometimes), with the various foreign cultural centres and the museum screenings, with the revival houses, with the mini-festivals or thematic weeks, with free open air screenings in the summer, with the cine-club debates and the public scholar conferences...Paris sets up the highest standards. It must be a cinephile heaven. Ironically my biggest frustration comes from all the films I'm missing every week, don't hate me for that. But I don't forget all the films never imported in France.

I used to think that a one-time screening was better than nothing, but like for Nitesh, the odd timing is one of my pet peeves, and it's especially annoying for film lovers with a busy life or living outside of a big city. So that's why we should also mention a new kind of cinephilia generated by DVDs and VODs.
But there is always something to complain about, and certainly the conditions could always improve. Paris is no exception and the commercialisation of art inevitably clouds up an ideal picture. For instance we don't host a major film festival, because Cannes is at the other extremity of the country.

While the average ticket price ranges from 8 to 10 euros and the arthouse circuit is largely supported by state subsidies (funded by a tax on all admissions!), exhibitors, big and small, incessantly compete for territories and beg for more regulations to prevent one screen from stealing the audience from the next one. A couple of theatre chains came up in recent years with a yearly pass equivalent to the price of 4 admissions per month giving free access to their screens anytime. And if it makes mainstream movie goers more adventurous to try lesser commercial movies without feeling robbed, it caused serious anti-trust worries for the individual art houses not protected by a wide circuit.

As you may know, the relatively small country that is France, in term of population and economy, only sustains a film industry of international stature we can't afford, thanks to subsidies at every level, from production (commission of loans to be repaid only in case of a successful B.O.) to exhibition (aids in case of art film screenings) and (mandatory) TV broadcasts. So basically, the TV networks and the multiplex crowd support the survival of our dear "cultural exception." Thus a dozen events around the year propose free screenings or value intensive tickets: like buy 1 get the second free over a weekend, or a 3 days all-you-can-watch buffet for €2 each after an initial full price admission, or a weekly festival pass for the price of 3 admissions. This is how film culture should ideally welcome the less fortunate viewers everywhere!


Edwin Mak said...

It may sound a bit rich from someone living in another cosmo-tropolis, but still, Parisians are spoilt rotten Harry! And like you, missing out is one of my "pet peeves," as you like to put it (aren't we sounding ever so spoilt?). But to expand a little, its simply the number of Chinese films that are rounded up by French producers or distributors before any others get hold of them. Which is no bad thing in itself, but is nonetheless irritating to no-end, when they sit on titles only to release them with French only subs. I guess there is an element of Anglophone hypocrisy when I say that, but that only opens up a general criticism for distributors unwilling to cater for more than their local language.

Allow me to pick out one such example. And it happens to be one of the most significant Chinese films of this decade, which regrettably will remain unseen by too many: TIEXI DISTRICT (or WEST OF THE TRACKS, 2002, Wang Bing). MK2 Editions are missing the dressing-down they deserve for virtually burying it under language and pricing restrictions. And isn't it tantamount to turning away customers not to cater for foreign or global audiences (markets)? So its either them, or, for the privilege of English subs, get an "Educational" edition from DER; for a cool sum of $950 I hasten to add.

HarryTuttle said...

I totally agree that the multilingual tracks/subtitles should be a standard for any DVD release, just because it so easy to add to the package for an immense benefit to open up to the potential target audience. And English, on top of the original language and the local translation, should be mandatory.

Multiple dubbing requires more efforts, but subtitles is no sweat.

Another commerce-driven embargo is the DVD region that goes against the global village of cinephiles who buy their films online, regardless for the company nationality.

And since we talk about pet peeves, please someone make them stop hard-printing subs on a film print (I'm talking about theatrical screening), and transition to a system projecting an optional subtitle(s) track on the image, that could be switched on and off according to the audience it plays to.

So is it MK2 maintaining exclusivity or is it that no foreign company is willing to release it? I'm afraid that without MK2 this epic documentary would not be visible at all today.

Anyway, I agree with you, such a film with a limited audience would unlikely be release by many companies, so the first one to pick it up should make a version accommodating the widest possible viewership.

HarryTuttle said...

I meant, how many DVD distributors out there would invest in releasing a 9h long Chinese documentary? And you know that like you I believe this film is a major masterpiece of the decade (and I would sit in it in my all time top100).

Maybe Andrew could tell us more about the way deals work between DVD distributors.

Edwin Mak said...

optional subtitle(s) track on the image

That sounds like an endorsement for digital projection, which has been incoming for some time now. Admittedly I'm no expert when it comes to projection, but is it possible to project subtitles separate to a film strip?

I'm digressing now, but it reminds me of the old-school subtitling convention – theatrical or on good old VCD – in Hong Kong. It is, or it used to be, commonplace to see 3-4 languages etched onto the same print. Normally you'd see anything from Traditional Chinese, Indonesian, Vietnamese, Thai or Japanese alongside of each other.

HarryTuttle said...

They do it at the cinémathèque with old or foreign unsubtitled prints, you know, either with a LCD board at the bottom of the screen, a rear projector or in the best case a subtitles laser projector.

So exhibitors only need to purchase one of these cheap equipment, and the distributors need to provide a compatible file that can be used with them. It's easily possible and probably cheaper altogether after a while. And I can't believe the newer generation of projectors don't have this option integrated in the machine already (since the technology was available for some time now).

And the other advantage is to be able to correct translation typos without ordering a new print! Just update the text file. No more of bad subs sticking with a film for ever until a remastering of the film.

Your example of multilingual prints is what drives me nuts. For some time the only director's cut version of Persona we had in France was German subbed (on 2 lines) with French subs added above (on 2 lines) taking up the entire bottom half of the screen!

Carving a sub in a film is as outrageous to me as scratching a vinyl disk or sticking a gum on a painting... it damages the work permanently (and in case of rarities, we are left with that only surviving copy to make new prints from). Hard subs is just a bad idea (not to mention the white text on white background!). It's mind boggling how they are still issuing prints with this outdated technique...

Edwin Mak said...

I'm afraid that without MK2 this epic documentary would not be visible at all today.

I take your point Harry, but that does neglect the reality of bootlegs – either in an organized way (downloading and web streaming) or informally from copy to copy. I'm not sure how distributors are every going to be able to avoid being kept on their toes by pirates. I'd be great to hear from Andrew on this.

HarryTuttle said...

Yes. At the junction of our two digressions are the fansubs, you know, the text files in the language of your choice that you download on a bootleg site to play with the unsubbed video on your media player.

These people translate, synch and edit a subtitle pro bono and without more typo/translation problems than professionals. I tried to make one and it's extremely time consuming!

This (pirate) system offers more languages for more obscure films! So maybe there is a sub file for Tie Xi Qu (I just found one in Spanish!).

I have no clue about legality and economic models... all I know is the audience is better served by bootlegs at this point.

Andrew Grant said...

Regarding DVDs and subtitling options -- the reason many DVD's don't contain multiple subtitling options is more an issue of licensing than of laziness on the part of the distributor.

If a film is going to be sold to multiple markets, subtitles in a language other than the target region can be viewed as unfair competition. For example, our contract with Bavaria Film for DER FREIE WILLE (THE FREE WILL) prohibited us from including any subtitles other than English. French subtitles would be viewed as competing with the French release of the DVD.

One of the big problems with the European DVD market is that a significant percentage of consumers (at least enough for European distributors to take note) are purchasing DVDs from America, which are often cheaper, and in some cases have a street date months before the European theatrical date.

I don't know the details behind MK2's handling of TIEXI DISTRICT, but that might very well be the case. I have a meeting with them in Berlin in a few weeks — I'll be sure to bring it up!

I have much more to say on the subject, but I'll save it for the main post.

HarryTuttle said...

Thanks for correcting me, Andrew, I shouldn't blame individual distributors, but the distribution system with its regulations and constraints. Though their reasoning is absurd since there are English natives living in France who might want to watch a region 2 DVD in English, and vice-versa French expatriates in the USA who want to buy a region 1 DVD in French. Why should the free market forbid this usage?

It is crucial for cinephiles to support distributors and thus accept certain limitation to keep the DVD market of niche auteurs profitable, otherwise they will never released them. But we can't pretend we live in a national-centric market where the Internet doesn't exist...

Edwin Mak said...

Why should the free market forbid this usage?

It's probably not what you meant Harry, but read alone, its brilliantly rhetorical question...answer: the logic of capital.

Its either the audiences to lose out (in having access to language), or, the resellers losing out in restricting sales to their patch.

HarryTuttle said...

What I meant is that regional exclusivity is not "free" market, it's protectionism. It's obviously forcing people to buy several DVDs when they move from one country to another because their player can't play their old DVDs. So it increases capital for sellers. But it doesn't supply demand in a natural balance.

Custom taxes used to be set up at the doors of the city because people never left their town. But when the EU open the inner market, taxes evolve. Now the online consumer is entering a global village, and national restrictions don't make sense anymore.

But going back to Tiexi District, how many copies of DVD can it sell in the world? With a small niche, it makes no sense to force a new distributor to redo all the production, designing, publication, packaging... while all the work was already done by a company somewhere in the world and could ship over a couple hundred copies.

If MK2 withhold rights for speculation purpose, it's stupid. But if regulations forbids them to use foreign languages and ship abroad, it's worse. And it's not helping the promotion of the auteur, nor the accessibility of the potential audience.

<< Weekly releases by city | Kevin Lee, R2 >>

“Custom taxes used to be set up at the doors of the city because people never left their town. But when the EU open the inner market, taxes evolve. Now the online consumer is entering a global village, and national restrictions don’t make sense anymore.” Sorry for the shortcut history reminder there. I meant back in medieval times, people stayed in their home town all life long, and considered other towns/regions like a “foreign” country. So it made sense then to tax business at the gate of the city. But as mobility of populations became to extend outside the city gates, and even outside the nation, the tax system has to adapt to social behaviours. The evolution of the colonies/states in the USA, and the merger of Europe countries in the European Union follow the same pattern. The next step is the worldwide mobility achieved by of populations and goods, either physically (Planes, FedEx…) or virtually (The Internets!) in recent decades. So this idea that a unique edition of a film must produce a whole new DVD, in every country, even when the marketability of the smallest niche films doesn’t justify it, is a business practice gradually becoming outdated. Especially if you consider the English language market. What would justify the DVD of a film (originally in English or translated in English) to package it differently in the USA, in the UK, in Australia or even in India? We could produce only one product and save money, maybe an international cooperation between DVD companies in these different places to get the best possible video transfer and DVD bonus… and ship it worldwide! Customers shop and order online anyway. So the language of translation is more determinant than the “region” it is marketed in.

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