Wednesday, 29 June 2011

[478] Market Realities, Patience, and Playing The Long Game

Phew, here is the final part of my mammoth essay, 'Online Worlds and Grassroots Activity in UK World Cinema Distribution'. Make sure to read the first, second and third parts. Thanks for reading!


Through both their online and offline initiatives, Third Window and Terracotta are pursuing a very different approach to Tartan's 'Asia Extreme' imprint. Instead of broad, boisterous hype, which aggressively marketed a number of films with a bluntness befitting of the genre name - indeed, Tony Borg, president of American counterpart Tartan Video, referred to the label's films as 'cultural hand grenades' (Hahn, 2005) - the two companies focus on community, fan culture and promotion that looks outside of genre boundaries, simultaneously fostering interest in East Asian cinema as a whole, alongside specific identification with their individual brands.

However, even though such grassroots evangelism gives a positive impression of the business, the immediate realities of the market cannot be avoided. For example, in a traditional retail context, Third Window and Terracotta are beholden to the HMV chain of media megastores, which currently holds a monopoly on DVD sales on the high-street. Torel explains that

'Unfortunately since Virgin/Zavvi and other similar stores went under there's just HMV left which means that they're a lot less receptive to foreign films. HMV are doing especially poorly recently, so even if you've got a critically acclaimed film on your hand, they won't take many units unless you've spent a load on advertising, and even then they may not. They also work on the terms that if it doesn't sell so many units in the first week then they'll return the product, so it's very risky.' (2011)

Furthermore, as the DVD market is experiencing a period of contraction - with HMV experiencing a 13.6% reduction in sales over the Christmas 2010 period - it seems less viable for smaller distribution companies to pursue this outlet ('HMV to close 60 stores as sales and shares slump', 2011).




Indeed, even when DVDs are stocked in HMV, the experience can be unpredictable. When talking on the VCinema podcast about his 2010 releases, Kakera and Fish Story (2009), Torel explained that he 'expected a lot more from them', especially considering the comparatively expensive advertising campaigns invested in each ($25,000 for Kakera, $18,000 for Fish Story), but problems with HMV stock over a summer of low sales resulted in slow business:

'During the World Cup here, and Wimbledon, and the abnormally hot weather we had for a month and a half or so, people stopped buying DVDs and HMV stopped buying stock. So there's been no stock in this store, and considering that HMV's the only major retailer throughout the country, not having stock in this store is hurting us a lot.' (2010)

Luckily, these companies find more success through Amazon.co.uk, but it is in these pre-Internet contexts that business seems more complicated. For example, Terracotta's release of Breathless in 2009 was heralded by Sight & Sound as both film of the month and a film of the year, but even this prestige did not translate into larger sales figures (Rayns, 2010; 'Films of 2009: The Complete Poll'). Likewise, despite Kakera's strong international reception on the festival circuit, Torel is certain that this audience is not large enough to support a wide-scale release. He told VCinema: 'If I just sell to every person who'd heard about it from a film festival or something, I won't make money' (2010).




Therefore, there is pressure for companies like Terracotta and Third Window to suppress their instincts, and to instead look for easier sells, perhaps to bankroll further releases. When speaking to VCinema, Torel was asked if there was a film in his catalogue of which he was ashamed. He quickly responded with the Korean film Teenage Hooker Became A Killing Machine (Daehakno-yeseo maechoon-hadaka tomaksalhae danghan yeogosaeng ajik Daehakno-ye Issda, 2000). He explained that, at the time, he needed money to fund the purchase of several titles directed by Korean filmmaker Lee Chang Dong, but elaborated on the predictable nature of the general audience that, as a label boss, is sometimes too tempting to exploit:

'It's not terribly good, to say the least. But, you have to understand how these people are in England. Not just England, but, generally, people. Average Joe. It could be a blank disc, for Christ's sake: you have a title like that, you have a cover like that, and it will sell like hotcakes!' (2010)

However, Torel considers Third Window's reputation, as reflected in the integrity of its catalogue, to be more important than immediate financial gain, saying that 'long-term label building and gaining trust from consumers is important, not short-term money making through exploitation of the audience, which is the path most travelled' (2011). Indeed, it is this quality that has contributed to an international awareness of the label's releases, allowing as a by-product of the borderless Internet culture the rise of an import market, with international fans ordering films unreleased in their region from Amazon.co.uk. Despite their global scope, both Twitch and VCinema are based in North America, and it is this catalogue of acquisitions - which J Hurtado describes in his profile of the label as 'finely curated' - that has brought Third Window to their attention (2010a).

For Third Window and Terracotta, the strategies are long-term. Torel in particular considers time to be the major resource in the development of his company - one, he says, he has plenty of which to invest. When talking about the variegated jobs he undertakes in order to promote Third Window - attending conventions, organising screenings and engaging with online communities - he describes it as a top priority, saying that 'nothing beats personal interaction, and if the audience appreciate that, which they do, then you've built a trusting audience who will buy into your brand' (2011).

By focusing on reputation, reception and the relationship with both new and old communities, Third Window and Terracotta are succeeding in the 'paradoxical times' for world cinema distribution described by Macnab, and challenges his ominous predictions for the industry (2008). Their use of both on- and offline strategies, and the dialogue with their audience, is firmly in line with Jenkins 'new set of rules' for a convergent culture, which renegotiates the relationship between producer and consumer, and adopts the inter-personal, word-of-mouth experience of cult cinema for wider purposes (2006a, 3).

This new type of distributor, in contrast to MacAlpine and Tartan's ambitious, militaristic march towards domination, commits to their business with the patience and resilience of fans, suggesting that Jenkins' convergence has, in this case, resulted in an intertwining of producer and consumer that is starting to change the industry itself. The discourse from Torel and Leung, for example, closely mirrors that of the cult cinema anecdotes highlighted by Mathijs and Mendik, which mythologise the act of communication between consumers:

'Still, if one of us hadn't accepted the video-tape of “that movie” from that wild-eyed, tense shop clerk, we would never have become soul-mates, and a world of cult cinema would never have opened. Every story about a cult favourite begins with such humble, local details - therefore, global cults never exist without local ones.' (2008, 280)

Against the bombastic, polysemic example of Asia Extreme, Third Window and Terracotta seem unassuming, but welcoming - more like 'wild-eyed shop clerks' than grenade-wielding agents provocateurs. Time will tell if their grassroots efforts will translate into global cults.


Thanks again for reading, and thanks to Adam Torel and Joey Leung for allowing me to interview them for this essay. If you're not watching the films they're releasing, you're doing yourself a disservice. You can go back to the beginning of the essay here.

[477] Participatory Cults IRL: Societies, Festivals and Cons

Here is part two of my essay, 'Online Worlds and Grassroots Activity in UK World Cinema Distribution'. You can read the first part here, and the second part here.


Many of the hallmarks of participatory culture that Jenkins has documented can be traced back to a pre-Internet age. Indeed, the blogs and online discussion forums so popular today are clearly evolved from localised, smaller scale fan-clubs and 'zine publishers in the decades before the computer took over our homes. Therefore, despite the exponential development of digital culture, there is still something resilient that resides in old-school forms of promotion, exhibition, and engagement, allowing both Terracotta and Third Window to not only dial into already vibrant fan subcultures, but also reach out to new audiences.




The Terracotta Far East Film Festival, for example, aims to provide a platform for a mix of Asian films, from a variety of genres, in the process serving a number of disparate tastes and audiences - from anime and manga enthusiasts to hardened cinephiles. Furthermore, the choice of venue also supports such a diversity of audience. The Prince Charles Cinema - situated just off Leicester Square, the heart of London's cinema community and the location of dozens of red carpet premieres throughout the year - is an independent alternative to the larger Odeon, Cineworld and Vue cinema experiences. With its eclectic programme of recent releases, classics, and themed events, the Prince Charles is supported by a varied community of cinemagoers, many of which are part of their membership scheme.

For Terracotta to find its home at the Prince Charles Cinema, is for it to align itself with a lifestyle of film consumption that lies outside of the mainstream, in many ways feeding off the venue's roots and continued relevance as a hub of 'cult' cinema. Indeed, while containing many of the similar qualities of Jenkins' participatory culture, the studies of cult fandom and its approach to film consumption focuses on the physical aspect of community, where the shared experience of communal viewing plays an integral role. In the introduction to their Cult Film Reader, Mathijs and Mendik look at cult films as fundamentally opposed to the mainstream, especially in terms of how they do not always rely on box office success or critical canonisation, stating:

'Their reception does not typically end at the vaults of a bank or the archives of a museum of heritage. Instead, the consumption of cult cinema relies on continuous, intense participation and persistence, on the commitment of an active audience that celebrates films they see as standing out from the mainstream' (2008, 4)

Indeed, Mathijs and Mendik liken this celebration to 'organised forms of religious or spiritual worshipping', highlighting the festival experience, of special programmes, double bills and post-film Q&As as all being part of the cult film lifestyle (2008, 4).




This is mirrored in Terracotta's other collaborations with the Prince Charles, such as the regular themed screenings of Big Tits Zombie during the latter half of 2010, which slotted in with the cinema's tradition of niche-appeal events, from sing-along screenings of The Sound of Music, to movie marathons covering the entire Star Trek film franchise. For the Big Tits Zombie events, which were presented in 'retro' anaglyph 3D, audience members were encouraged to attend in costume, with free entry and prizes offered as incentive, which resulted in coverage from a number of film websites, such as FarEastFilms.com and Popbitch.com, and inspired audience members to, afterwards, upload photographs from the event to social media networks like Flickr.

Such a mixture of cult-style event management and online 'viral' marketing worked well, as the first screening of Big Tits Zombie filled the Prince Charles, with many punters being turned away at the door. In lieu of a wide theatrical release, such targeted screenings seem to be a useful way for distributors like Terracotta to build hype without resorting to playing the exhibition game, or investing in mass marketing. As a contrast to the Prince Charles screenings, Big Tits Zombie was also shown at the Barbican arts centre, as part of a special Halloween double bill in the Aspects of Japanese Cinema programme, organised in conjunction with Zipangu Fest, a new festival curated by critic Jasper Sharp. While still maintaining a similar tone to the Prince Charles screenings by being listed as a 'schlockfest', the Barbican's reputation as a centre for the appreciation of international culture, not to mention the addition of an introductory talk from Sharp, gives the film a slightly different context - one that's more studied, if no less entertaining - that would serve an audience perhaps less interested in the extroverted, dress-up side of cult cinema.




In a similar vein, Terracotta and Third Window share a stall at the MCM Expo, a biannual fan convention that covers film, video games and comics, but with a strong representation from the anime and manga communities, who flood the Excel Centre with mass 'cosplay' gatherings. The most recent iteration of the Expo, held at the end of October 2010, welcomed close to 47,000 visitors, and the attendance of distributors was evident, with representatives from Manga Entertainment, 4Digital Asia, Beez Entertainment, Optimum Releasing and MVM films also filling out the floor space. Alongside such specialists in anime and explicit genre films that would fit under the 'Asia Extreme' banner, the majority of Terracotta and Third Window's catalogues may seem out of place, but Leung sees it as part of the marketing strategy: the goal is simply to be seen, to engage with this niche audience and to promote the festival as well as the DVDs. In his words, 'if we sell anything, then that's a bonus' (2010). Torel agrees, explaining that:

'As long as I break even with my table costs then I don't mind being there for as ever long as it takes as it's just my time and it's more important to be able to connect to your audience directly and find out what they're interested in. At these events we tend to do okay through titles like Kamikaze Girls and the such which usually sell very well, but as long as we have such titles bringing people in, then we can personally recommend other titles to people. Even if I only sell to 50 people over the whole weekend, that's 50 more people who are into the cause and who could continue to get into our releases.' (2011)

This approach to using events, screenings and festivals as promotional tools, to engage with specific audiences and build up brand awareness, is also seen in how Third Window and Terracotta court the community of up-and-coming academics at university level, through their sponsorship of the Coventry University East Asian Film Society. Besides providing the society with prints of their films for exhibition, in 2010 Torel delivered an introduction before the screening of Kakera, and also answered questions from the organisers Michelle Bailey and Spencer Murphy on the state of East Asian cinema in the UK. Once more, this offline side of promotion leaks into the online world, as CUEAFS has since uploaded interviews with both Torel and Leung, as well as footage and photographs from their own screenings (including a Big Tits Zombie Halloween party) onto their own website.



(Photograph from a CUEAFS screening, taken from their Facebook group)


Even though this work is not immediately profitable, it is beneficial for companies such as Third Window and Terracotta to foster a varied community around East Asian cinema, and by extension their own films. Torel explains it as being indicative of an almost 'punk-rock' attitude, telling VCinema:

'I'm a bit too generous with stuff. Whenever a cinema asks if they could show my film, I say 'go ahead.' Especially film clubs, if any film clubs or small places ask to show my films, I never charge them. I do like helping out anybody that I can. Everyone's got to help each other out if you're small. And it's really nice to form these sorts of relationships.' ('‘VCinema Episode 14: Zero Woman Red Handcuffs’, 2010)

This is part of the reasoning behind Torel's further collaboration with CUEAFS, namely the Third Window Film Festival, the first iteration of which is scheduled for February 2011. By moving away from London, and using the Warwick Arts Centre as a venue, Torel says he is looking to 'try and attract a crowd who [have] very little chance or even willingness to get involved with such a thing', who 'have not much idea about contemporary Asian cinema and don't have the chance to experience a film festival atmosphere' (2011). With a varied programme of films and appearances from actors and directors, coupled with a low entry fee for students, Torel hopes that students will 'jump at the chance' to experience the festival, and might, afterwards, develop an interest in Asian cinema (2011).

There's also the hope that the enthusiasm seen in Coventry will spread, and inspire a network of film societies that will, slowly, develop into a wider audience in the country as a whole. On a local level, Leung and Torel host free, monthly screenings in London that showcase not only the labels' own films, but other selections from East Asia. A series of screenings at the beginning of 2011, for example, has been programmed by Torel, and consists of previously unreleased films such as Adrift In Tokyo (Tenten, 2007), from writer-director Satoshi Miki, whose Turtles are Surprisingly Fast Swimmers (Kame wa igai to hayaku oyogu, 2005) and Instant Swamp (Insutanto numa, 2009) have been distributed by Third Window.




In a similar vein to the Terracotta Festival, these screenings serve to provide a platform for East Asian films that the distributors wish to bring to a wider audience, without needing to invest in a DVD release. Furthermore, it also both harnesses the social aspect of watching films, offering an alternative to the experiences peddled by mainstream cinema chains, with screenings hosted at the Japan-themed Life Bar, and formalises the 'cult' tendencies of consuming international cinema, allowing attendees to become members of a community - not least because the information for these events is disseminated through social networking sites like Facebook and Meetup.com.

These special events all provide an alternative to the wide theatrical release practised by major distributors, but Torel is cautious to reject the conventional modes of exhibition, due to the promotional benefits that come with even a limited run. He explains

'In the UK, whether you release a title on 1 or 100 screens, if it plays for at least a week the film is applicable to be included in the Film Distributors Association's press release database. This means that the film will get a National Press Show in which critics must come and watch the film for review.' (2011)

For a company the size of Third Window, theatrical releases are expensive, but the fact that the film in question would be listed alongside more mainstream movies 'makes [it] seem a lot larger than it is', with the reviews and coverage giving it a serious promotional push in anticipation of its eventual home video release (2011). Torel does not expect these films to take much money from the limited release, but he is certain the extra promotion will help it to recoup its losses on DVD.

By using this quirk in the UK's system of distribution, Third Window can grant their releases a wide awareness without the need for broad marketing. It is useful to look at this as a sort of loss leader, with the expensive process of preparing a film for theatrical release paying back further down the line. Indeed, few of these IRL activities, from the free screenings to the film societies, are designed to pay immediate dividends. Instead, Torel and Leung are playing the long game, patiently building their audience as they go along, often in direct opposition to the realities of the market at large.


Read the next chapter here, or go back to the start of the essay here.

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

[476] Online Convergence and East Asian Film Distribution

Here is part two of my essay, 'Online Worlds and Grassroots Activity in UK World Cinema Distribution'. You can read the first part here.


Since the popularisation on online cultures, created by widespread Internet access and the flocking of fans to the web, academics such as Henry Jenkins have described this new context as significantly altering the traditional, old media lines of production, distribution and consumption. For example, specialist blogs and other amateur online outlets challenge the authority of older, respected sources, providing depth, passion and expertise in exchange for breadth and professional training.

The opportunities inherent in the Internet for the consumers themselves to make their voices heard - through not only blogs, but new media avenues such as podcasts, Youtube videos, and social networks - also see the formalisation and popularisation of what has been termed 'participatory culture', which in the past was restricted to hardcore fan communities, who through fanzines, conventions and societies shaped their media in their own image. Now, with the Internet as an enabling force, Jenkins sees this subcultural world colliding with old media, describing this current media landscape as a culture of convergence - a term which formed the title of one of his book-length studies. In his 2006 compilation of essays and columns, titled Fans Bloggers and Gamers: Exploring Participatory Culture, Jenkins elaborates on this new context, saying:

'Imagine a world where there are two kinds of media power: one comes through media concentration, where any message gains authority simply by being broadcast on network television, the other comes through grassroots intermediaries, where a message gains visibility only is it is deemed relevant to a loose network of diverse publics' (2006b, 180)

The online world of film criticism and discussion is one of the best examples of such a loose network. Unlike mainstream print media, with its competing newspapers and magazines that cater for broad tastes, film websites and blogs often indulge in narrow-casting, satisfying specific tastes, communities and audiences which, thanks to the global scope of the web, can find its healthy niche. Twitchfilm.com, one such website, was founded in late 2004 with the express purpose of getting beyond the strict boundaries that defined cult and arthouse cinema, and writing about films that were 'largely neglected by the online film community of the time' ('About Twitchfilm').

Fortunately for Third Window and Terracotta, their niche of East Asian cinema comes under Twitch's remit, but it is in their collaboration with the website where Jenkins' convergence culture becomes most evident. For example, Terracotta announced their acquisition of Big Tits Zombie via the website exclusively ('Big Tits Zombie Goes To Terracotta In The UK', 2010), as did Third Window with their purchase of Sion Sono's Cold Fish (Tsumetai nettaigyo, 2010; 'Third Window Films Acquires UK Rights To Cold Fish'). Terracotta's Joey Leung sees this as being part of a targeted media strategy, where they must focus on 'tailor-making messages for each film for each audience' (2010).




That said, sites like Twitch do not simply represent a handy outlet for press releases, they are indicative of the online community's willingness to pick over, analyse and discuss niche cinema releases in a depth that print word limits don't allow. This has been most recently seen in the ongoing 'Video Home Invasion' column series, written by critic J Hurtado, which is currently dedicating a number of articles to Third Window's releases (Hurtado, 2010a). The foundation for these articles comes from an in-depth interview with Adam Torel himself, which stretches to thousands of words, and covers not only the individual films in the catalogue, but also offers a behind-the-scenes look into both the running of the label and the process of acquiring new titles. Alongside generating interest for the film releases, it also serves the purpose of cementing the Third Window brand, with Torel as a combination of spokesperson, commentator and fan.

Similarly, his appearance on the VCinema podcast, which focuses on Asian cinema, also promoted this transparency, which, by explaining to listeners the conflicts and difficult judgements that come with running a distribution label, invites consumers to become more invested in the process. That these platforms are maintained by fans themselves provides further evidence for Jenkins' convergence culture, which 'depends heavily on consumers' active participation' (2006a, 3). Torel describes this engagement with the online audience as being imperative for companies like Third Window:

'If you've got genre action/horror etc titles, then traditional media sources are good to reach your mass audience who like such titles and will easily buy them, but for more arthouse or niche films then it's very important to stay close and well connected to the pretty small (but enthusiastic) audience we've got. These people tend to, as we do, constantly check out such sites as Twitch, Wild Grounds, VCinema, so it's good to work closely with them as its a good way of being close to the audience.' (2011)

This alternative to mass marketing has a number of benefits, not just the ability to speak directly to - and develop a dialogue with - switched-on audiences and create a brand image; it is also cheap, and allows both Leung and Torel to take charge of their marketing strategies. While they both use the same London-based publicity agency - The Associates - on a commission basis for their DVD releases, a significant amount of business can be handled by themselves. Through social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, which Leung succinctly describes as now being 'part of everyday life', the companies can attract audience members from around the world, and provide them with release information directly (2010).

Likewise, it allows both Leung and Torel to develop an awareness of their audience, and to react accordingly in their ongoing plans. This hands-on strategy is not only a defining feature for both labels, it also helps to shape the companies moving forward, giving them a dynamic, unique relationship with the audience. Torel, for example, is proud to reply to company emails personally, explaining that it is not 'something... you'll find from the heads of most other companies' (2011).




When coupled with links to Amazon.co.uk, now one of the primary outlets for UK DVD sales, much of the business involved in promoting, marketing and selling Third Window and Terracotta releases can be achieved online, with low overheads. However, this does not signal a complete retreat into the corners of the Internet. In fact, this personal relationship with community websites and consumers themselves becomes particularly useful for the companies in a second capacity, when it comes to planning their excursions into the outside world - or, in Internet parlance IRL, in real life - and fostering a tangible, sociable community around their film releases.


Read the next chapter here. You can go back to the beginning here.

[475] Extreme Fallout: A Post-Tartan Context

It's been a slow month on the blog, so I thought it was a good time to post up my essay on East Asian film distribution in the UK, specifically the Third Window and Terracotta labels, which I wrote for my MA earlier this year. The full title was 'Online Worlds and Grassroots Activity in UK World Cinema Distribution'; here's the introductory chapter.


Despite the international status of the cinema industry, and the ready-built modes of exhibition that exist in the UK, distribution of world cinema is a tricky endeavour. Due almost to their very nature, international cinema releases in the UK are pushed into the margins of popular film culture, with the presence of foreign languages, subtitles and unfamiliar stars guaranteeing smaller-scale distribution, consumption and reception. Indeed, not only are many such films granted only limited releases, at key specialist cinemas across the country, they are often only seen by certain subcultural audiences - the genre fans, the film buffs and the art-house elite - and generate a small percentage of the box office income of major English language productions.




Such industry trends have influenced the strategies of UK-based distribution companies, but some still bid for crossover success, with a recent example being Momentum Pictures' release of Swedish thriller The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo (Män som hatar kvinnor, 2009), which was treated like 'a big event', with a lavish marketing campaign that attempted to entice the embedded audience familiar with the source novel into the cinema (Gant, 2010, 'The Film That Broke Rules'). In terms of East Asian cinema, the case study of the 'Asia Extreme' boom of the early 2000s has been well documented and widely scrutinised in both academic and journalistic contexts.

Spearheaded by Tartan Films, and featuring Japanese releases such as Ring (1998), Audition (1999) and Battle Royale (2000), this wave of imports managed to find a wider audience that transcended subcultural boundaries. In his essay '"Asia Extreme": Japanese Cinema and British Hype', Oliver Dew highlights the success of Tartan especially as capturing the attentions of horror fans, Asian cinema enthusiasts and high-brow cinephiles through what he terms the 'polysemic sell' - a marketing approach which allows film texts to present multiple readings and meaning, allowing it to be 'sold to a world cinema audience as well as to a genre-film audience, in a way that an American horror film or a common or garden foreign-language art house film cannot be' (2007, 60).

However, the reign of Asia Extreme was short-lived. In her study of Tartan's mastery of the 'Art of Branding', which focused on the hype generated by Tartan's catalogue of violent and explicit films, Chi-Yun Shin concluded with the ambiguous proposition that the label would eventually run out of product that would 'comfortably fit into the extreme category' (2008). Indeed, within months of the article's publication in the Spring issue of Jump Cut, Tartan Films filed for bankruptcy, resulting in scrutiny of another kind, this time looking at the company's downfall. Critic Geoffrey Macnab, writing in The Guardian, composed a detailed post-mortem for Tartan, analysing its strategy and the persona of its owner, Hamish MacAlpine. Macnab points to Tartan's willingness to over-saturate the market with product as one contributing factor, revealing that 'the market for Asian horror films, for so long [their] staple, had bottomed out' (2008).




Indeed, while the failure of Tartan and the bursting of the Asia Extreme bubble revealed the artifice behind the tag's creation - where the hype from the success of a handful of key films was stretched to cover dozens of lower quality releases - it also spelled a potential downturn for Dew's polysemic successes, which had been bolstered by a mixture of DVD sales, aggressive marketing, and coverage in old and new media. Macnab continued, looking at industry trends and the fate of smaller-scale distribution companies:

'Whereas in the past, a small arthouse gem might be given a chance to build up word of mouth and find an audience, now every film is judged instantly. If the opening weekend figures are disappointing, the film will be yanked out of cinemas. Meanwhile, when a small distributor does go all out to give a film a big push, the risks can be daunting. If the film flops, the distributor is lumbered with huge bills that it will struggle to pay.' ('Death of a Salesman', 2008)

However, despite Macnab's predictions for the industry, the final years of the decade saw a number of distribution companies emerging in the wake of Tartan's success and eventual decline. And, even though the majority of these do attempt to recreate the Asia Extreme effect, many provide an alternative to the company's aspirations for mainstream domination through tickling taboos. Instead, these labels have more modest aims, looking to build their audience from the ground up. While this may seem to be a retreat into the margins of the industry, there is also a simultaneous drive towards a proactive relationship with the audience, forming links and cultivating a new community around the labels themselves.




Key examples are Third Window Films and Terracotta Distribution, two London-based operations that focus on East Asian cinema that attempt to get away from the genre ghettoisation created by the Asia Extreme boom. Third Window, set up in 2005 by Adam Torel, an ex-employee of Tartan, defines itself on its own website as '[working] hard to bring you the wonderful world beyond long-haired ghost films and mindless Hollywood action copies' ('About'), instead specialising in having no specific genre bias, releasing dramas and comedies such as Fine, Totally Fine (Zenzen daijobu, 2008), Kamikaze Girls (Shimotsuma monogatari, 2004) and Kakera (2009). Since it is a younger company, forming in 2009, Terracotta has fewer films in its roster - which nevertheless ranges from the critically-acclaimed Korean drama Breathless (Ddongpari, 2009) to the recently-released Japanese schlock-horror Big Tits Zombie (Kyonyû doragon: Onsen zonbi vs sutorippâ 5, 2010) - but its annual Far East Film Festival provides a platform for a variety of Asian films.

This essay will look at how these two companies build their audiences, and how they are succeeding in the post-Asia Extreme climate detailed by Macnab. Since large scale releases are out of the question, both Third Window and Terracotta need to be resourceful in the current marketplace, using new media opportunities afforded by the Internet, and employing old-school, grassroots initiatives that challenge mainstream modes of exhibition. In the process, they point towards a more promising future for world cinema distribution as a whole.


Subsequent chapters of this essay will be uploaded this week. Read part two.

Friday, 24 June 2011

[474] Viva Riva (2010) Review

As promised, here's the review of Congolese crime thriller Viva Riva!, which I wrote for Little White Lies.




Coming from the Democratic Republic of Congo, and hoping to spearhead a filmmaking renaissance there, crime thriller Viva Riva! immediately impresses with novelty, but soon hits on too many familiar genre conventions to stand out from the crowd.

After working as a low-level crook in Angola, Riva (Patsha Bay) makes off with a truckload of petrol, planning to siphon off his precious cargo in exchange for a small fortune in the bone-dry Congolese capital, Kinshasa. However, word of his deal causes a stir, with various parties, from crooked state officials to ambitious clergymen, wanting their cut – while Angolan gangster César (Hoji Fortuna) is in hot pursuit, aiming to claim both the petrol and Riva’s head.

For his first feature film, writer-director Djo Munga takes a mere side-glance at the myriad issues concerning Congolese society, instead opting to make a popcorn flick, full of sex, violence and nefarious deeds. It is unfortunate, as political tension – as glimpsed in César’s vitriolic judgement of Congolese character, “Maybe you should have remained colonised” – takes a backseat to a rather toothless exploration of sexuality.


Read the full article here.

Thursday, 23 June 2011

[473] Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow article in Film International 9.2

I woke up this morning and realised that I've not seen a film - either in the cinema or on DVD - since the very beginning of the month. Three weeks ago, actually. The last one was Beginners, which I've since reviewed for Little White Lies. Since then, the days have passed in a haze of anxiety, university work and Behind The Bytes. Films have fallen by the wayside, as has seemingly most of my written work. A weird month.

So I was surprised that the latest issue of Film International fell through my letterbox, and it contained a piece I wrote almost two years ago, about the Vittorio De Sica anthology film Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Ieri, oggi, domani). It stars Marcello Mastroianni and Sophia Loren as lovers in three separate short films, set in three different Italian cities. I thought it was quite an overlooked gem.

The piece itself is a little clunky; it was back when I had a real affection for tricolons and overburdened sentences, where I'd throw down dashes and keep adding extra points because I was so goddamned serious and excitable. That said, however, it's great to finally see it in print.




I've yet to delve into the issue, but I have already earmarked a piece by guest editor Pietari Kääpä titled 'Born American? Renny Harlin and Global Hollywood', which sounds fascinating.

You can pick up Film International from selected film-specialist shops, such as (I think) the BFI Southbank, The ICA, and The Cornerhouse. Otherwise, you can order it online here.

Monday, 20 June 2011

[472] Behind The Bytes, now on Screwattack.com!

Here's some exciting news to start the week. Bytescorp (That's Nick, Ed and me) have partnered with Screwattack.com to stream the full miniseries of Behind The Bytes!

We're starting from the beginning, re-posting the series in order. Episode 1, all about Tails and his Sonic addiction, went up in the wee small hours of this morning. Check it out here.




Next up is the Zelda: Triforce of Anguish episode, which is going up a week on Friday, and then there will be 3 all-new episodes going live biweekly. I don't want to spoil the surprise, but over the last weekend we filmed the talking head segments for Episode 3. Here's a teaser image...




Oh, is that a little obscure? How about an on-set moment of Clarissa Ankle (the award-winning Samantha Baines) shooting daggers at our intrepid reporter, Correspondent Lamb?




Stay tuned for more info, behind-the-scenes gossip, and other Bytes tomfoolery. Although, for jokes and so on, you're better off following the Slander Feed on Twitter.


Note: Apologies to those of you who are looking for the earlier upload of Episode 2, but we thought it best to keep it hidden until the new broadcast date.

Friday, 17 June 2011

[471] Life In A Day (2011) Review

After a quiet couple of weeks (of hard work, I assure you), I'm back, pontificating about a widely-acclaimed recent release.




There's currently a real confusion about how to tackle YouTube. There's no doubt that it's now shaping and affecting Internet culture, entertaining millions with short videos of babies laughing, pets talking and spoiled schoolgirls indulging in expensive forms of karaoke.

Although, while its ephemera are often highlighted, its more subtle aspects are rarely championed. Has there ever been a similar cultural organ, which acts simultaneously as an online archive for visual media, and a platform for everyday voices? At its heart, it is an immersive catalogue of video culture, from music promos and trailers to skits and spoofs, from astoundingly creative content to self-obsessed vlogging.

Out of this struggle for legitimacy and definition comes
Life In A Day, an ambitious, unashamedly self-aggrandising project, which takes one aspect of the YouTube phenomena, that of micro-autobiography, and uses it to tell the modest story of life as we knew it on 24th July 2010.

Produced in part by Ridley and Tony Scott, and eventually directed by Kevin Macdonald, the project invited YouTube users to submit videos about how the day panned out for them. The resulting film is nothing short of an incredible feat of editing, whittling down thousands of submissions and arranging the prime cuts into a tightly-wound ninety-five minute showcase.

However, such ambitious beginnings lumber the finished project with a conflict of theme and purpose, a tension between being a time capsule for the date in question, and providing a global survey of human experience, as well as being, as the posters so proudly state, "filmed by you".



Read the full article here.