Post-pandemic audiences are much more open to different cultures, thanks to streaming and exposure to new types of content, but some of the world’s biggest film industries are still figuring out how to adapt in a rapidly changing landscape, said speakers on the ‘Cinematic Crossovers’ panel in Red Sea Souk.
Leading producers from three industries with an international footprint – Woo-sik Seo from Korea’s Barunson C&C, a subsidiary of Barunson E&A (Parasite), Dheer Momaya from India’s Jugaad Motion Pictures (Last Film Show) and Jadesola Osiberu, founder of Nigeria’s Greoh Studios (Gangs Of Lagos) – compared their business and funding models with the old world system set up by France’s CNC and the nascent film industry in Saudi Arabia.
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But they concluded by saying that, despite their success in achieving global impact, the current systems face some challenges – particularly in terms of censorship and IP ownership.
Korean reality check
Seo, whose credits also include Okja and Descendants Of The Sun, kicked off the discussion by explaining how Korea’s world-beating film, TV and music industries initially grew with a combination of government funding and venture capital funds, starting when censorship restrictions were removed in the late 1990s. Streaming then accelerated the global appetite for Korean content through hits like Netflix series Squid Game.
But the pandemic and rise of streaming platforms also brought a reality check to Korea’s domestic industry.
“Our local audience has become much harsher and more objective – they used to watch Korean movies just because they were Korean, but now they don’t feel the need to go to the cinemas because they can watch everything on OTT,” said Seo, referring to the fact that market share for Korean films has not recovered since cinemas reopened.
“The Korean industry needs to re-evaluate what it is doing and start looking for new stories, because what we’ve been doing in the past doesn’t seem to be working any more.”
Momaya talked about how Indian cinema has always been very commercially driven, as it’s mostly financed through private equity without any government support. “But there is a change happening – the world is opening up to Indian cinema in a different way. A few films like The Lunchbox and RRR are being distributed internationally to non-diaspora audiences and I feel that’s where our focus should lie.”
He also explained how he raised finance for Pan Nalin’s Last Film Show, which was structured as an India-France co-production with Indian and Belgian equity investors and pre-sales to a few territories: “The film played for 45 weeks in Japan and 250 cinemas in Italy, so it wasn’t just playing to the diaspora. The kind of reactions and response that we got gave us the confidence to do more films like this that are hyperlocal stories but with global themes.”
Momaya also said that Indian audiences have become much more open to watching different kinds of content on streaming platforms, but theatrical distribution remains a challenge for films that are outside the traditional Bollywood formula.
“Without a major Indian star, Indian theatres don’t give you the kind of platform you need to make a film like that work. But last year we had a few films release with different sensibilities and textures, and the ecosystem is becoming more mixed, with the producer mindset, studio mindset and the audience mindset all changing.”
Nollywood dependent on streaming
Osiberu described a similar situation in Nigeria, where most films are financed by private equity and commercially driven, although a Nigerian New Wave has recently emerged, with films including C.J. Obasi’s Mami Wata, Abba Makama’s The Lost Okoroshi and Chuko Esiri and Arie Esiri’s Eyimofe (This Is My Desire).
But she also said the Nigerian industry has become much more dependent on streaming since the pandemic as the country’s theatrical infrastructure was badly hit: “Pre-pandemic, it grew from one cinema in the entire country in the early 2000s, to about 100 in a five-year space, and growing steadily. But then the pandemic hit and just destroyed all of that growth. So now it’s building up slowly again but the audience is not where it used to be,” Osiberu said.
“But what has grown in that time is streaming. Netflix and Amazon are both in the market and that has helped.”
Osiberu’s Greoh Studios has a three-year deal with Amazon under which she produced original film Gangs Of Lagos. She added that both that film and Anakle Films’ The Black Book on Netflix have resonated with audiences outside Africa thanks to streaming. “Both films have done quite well in South Korea, funnily enough, because I’m not sure how many Nigerians are out there.”
Saudi melting pot
Charlene Deleon-Jones, Executive Director at Saudi Arabia’s Film AlUla, talked about how African film and TV has a similar advantage to Korean content – in that its music is travelling before it – in the same that K-pop opened up global audiences to K-drama and movies (and is huge in Saudi Arabia), Afrobeats is now one of the hottest music trends globally.
She also talked about how Saudi’s nascent content industry has the opportunity to become more of a “hot bowl” of cultural influences: “Something we’re seeing in Saudi is that it’s not too inwardly looking and it’s becoming a mix of everything that is happening at a more global level. It’s also taking best practice and partnerships from everywhere else.”
She used the example of Stampede Ventures’ K-Pops!, which is shooting in Los Angeles and Saudi’s AlUla region, as an example of this new melting pot approach. “It’s an American film with a mixture of hip-hop, R&B and K-pop artists in a musical drama. We’ve also been talking about bringing in another film, quite large budget, which is mixture of Chinese, Arabic and U.S. elements. I think what you’re going to see here is a real mix of what’s happening elsewhere, because of the time that it’s started.”
French cultural exception
Jérémie Kessler, Director of European and International Affairs for France’s CNC, explained how the French system has supported its local cinema with funding sourced from the ‘avance sur recettes’ – basically a tax on the revenues that flow from the commercial exploitation of films. “But it’s key that this model has always been adapting – it was first a tax on admissions, then expanded to TV and DVD, and in the past few years has also expanded to a tax on streaming, including the U.S. streamers,” Kessler said.
Kessler also explained how French co-production and funding through Aide aux Cinemas du Monde has supported cinema in many international territories in Europe, Africa, Asia and South America. “But it’s interesting that the French-speaking and English-speaking parts of Africa have a different culture – because Francophone Africa is keyed into grants and government money, but not the English speaking part.”
The panelists also talked about how these diverse industries could work together – not just through official channels like co-production, but also through just investing in and distributing each other’s films, as well as talent and knowledge exchange. “Each country has its strong points – for example Korea can learn from the action sequences in RRR,” said Seo, who also shared exclusively with Deadline that Barunson has made its first investment in an Indonesian movie.
Censorship and new business models
But the conversation inevitably turned to the thorny issues of censorship and producers retaining IP. While Korea does not face issues with freedom of speech, both Momaya and Osiberu talked about the issue of self-censorship and how their industries struggle with audience outrage on social media. In India, Amazon ran into trouble over audience backlash against drama series Tandav, and Osiberu said there’s a lawsuit over Gangs Of Lagos, which upset a particular Nigerian community.
On the IP issue, Kessler pointed out that Netflix owns all the rights to Lupin, one of its biggest French-languages shows, “so it’s not a French work technically and legally”. France has become one of the first global territories to bring in government regulations to ensure that local producers retain some rights.
Seo said that when Netflix first entered Korea, local producers didn’t think about the ownership issue because streaming gave them a chance to show their films worldwide. “But what we’re not satisfied with now is how Netflix decides whether the next season gets made or not, without the consent of the original creators, which hampers our ability to make continuous revenue. So we’re now trying to protect our IP for both films and series by directly financing and then distributing ourselves to other countries.”
Osiberu talked of a similar situation in Nigeria: “African countries have been been colonized twice – first by the British, then by American media,” she observed. “And the IP issue has become a big conversation for us, because in the short term you’re focusing on how do I keep the lights on? How do I keep making work at the budget levels these American companies can finance and also get exposure to the whole world? But I think the government is trying to step in at some level to create policies for local producers to get at least a minimum amount of IP going forward.”
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