Sunday, June 14, 2009

New Classics Internet Distribution System

Great films are now available via internet streaming in a self-styled "online cinematheque".

Given the partners' sense of marketing, their stellar taste in the finest films in the world and their long successful track records running their respective businesses, this business should be a great success. For $5 viewers around the world can finally watch specialty films from directors like Michael Haneke, Michael Winterbottom, Francois Ozon, Walter Salles, Renoir, Godard, Kurosawa, Cocteau, Fellini, Bergman, Tarkovsky, Hitchcock, Fuller, Lean, Kubrick, Lang, Sturges, Dreyer, Eisenstein, Ozu, Sirk, Buñuel, Powell and Pressburger and be able to interact with other viewers around the world through Facebook style profile pages and discussion forums. As when "foreign movies" found new audiences in the 60s, this new endeavor, The Auteurs, has the mission of introducing art house cinema to a whole new audience.

They are now collaborating with Martin Scorsese's World Cinema Foundation (WCF) -- an organization dedicated to restoring lost cinema classics from around the world -- to exhibit the refurbished masterpieces online as well. The first four works from WCF are currently available to watch for free on The Auteurs Web site: Korean domestic thriller "The Housemaid" (1960) and "Transes" (1973), a documentary about pioneering Moroccan band Nass El Ghiwan, famously described by Scorsese as "the Rolling Stones of North Africa." Watch a clip from "The Housemaid" Watch a clip from "Transes"

Two of the partners, Criterion Collection's Jonathan Tyrell and Hengameh Panahi of Celluloid Dreams are old friends and we've watched both do very well at each new phase of distribution. Criterion began under the name Janus Films when father Saul Tyrrell and William Becker acquired the 1956 distribution company and then renewed every art film license for US in their name even though they had not been the original distributors. They knew the other US distributors at the time were very lazy about renewing rights and so they just kept track and renewed them when the time came up, thus establishing a classics collection like no other in the states. They had the greatest taste in films and Saul was always brimful of life and great ideas. His son Jonathan and William Becker's son Peter both took over the business in the time of laser disks and began the Criterion Collection. That's when we met and I used their office in New York when I handled Films Inc. Special Media Division for Social Issue Docs. Jonathan and Peter are so smart and nice and honest...I am thrilled they're a part of it because they know the business so well.

Hengameh started out in international sales when she brought 'The White Balloon' out of Iran and made a huge success with it and opened the world's eyes to Iranian films. Her international sales company, Celluloid Dreams, is the best. Every year they have 10 to 15 films in major film festival competition. She's tried and failed in several attempts to monetize the smaller art films which fail to find audiences. She's the only one you see trying new modes of distribution in big ways. I hope she finds success with this and I don't see why not.

Its a simple money maker. So what's Mark Cuban grousing about? He can put his films into this mix too! And Amazon's AVOD and CreateSpace, and 100 other digital platforms.

The third partner, and allegedly its "mastermind" are Efe Cakarel and Eduardo Costantini in New York.

The basic ambition behind The Auteurs is to make high quality cinema accessible to a young, global audience by making it available on demand cheaply. "If you are not in LA, London, New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Paris, or Berlin, forget it," Efe Cakarel told CNN over the phone from Palo Alto, California. "Many of these films you cannot get even on DVD if you are living in Warsaw, in Istanbul, in Seoul or Buenos Aires."

Cakarel comes from Goldman Sachs banking and has a head for technology. His idea for The Auteurs was formed in 2007 in Tokyo when he tried to watch Wong Kar-wai's "In the Mood for Love" on the Internet but could not find a place to see it.

Cakarel says he knew that if he was going to succeed in his quest to bring quality cinema to the global village he would have to enlist some of the industry's top brass.

This was done through connections to Argentine millionaire, Eduardo Costantini of Costa Films, the company behind 2007 Berlinale winner "Elite Squad", and Hengameh Panahi of Paris based distributor Celluloid Dreams whose film "A Prophet" won the Grand Prize at Cannes Film Festival this year.

Each month, the Criterion Collection curates a free online film festival making available classic films from its large library on The Auteurs. This month, users can watch Michelangelo Antonioni's 1960 classic "L'Avventura" or "Harakiri" (1962) by Japanese master Masaki Kobayashi.

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