Brisk film market draws companies like Dogwoof and ro*co films international
Just around the bend from the main hub of the Berlin Film Festival sits an elegant building known as the Martin-Gropius-Bau, a 19th century beauty that somehow survived the bombing of the city in World War II.
During the festival thousands of people stream through its revolving doors, going from the frosty temperatures outside into a frenetic den of activity known as the "European Film Market" [EFM]. It's described as the "business epicentre" of the festival where more than 8,400 "producers, buyers, sales agents, distributors, exhibitors and financiers [meet at] the first major film market of the year."
We feel it’s important for us to be here because we’re looking to really make sure we are well connected to all the theatrical distributors that have the capacity to take on a documentary film and market it well.
Among the myriad entities doing business at the EFM are Canal+, ARTE France, Netflix Holland, the BBC, the Irish Film Board, Croatian Television, Wild Bunch, A24 [whose titles include Amy], Dogwoof [credits: Life Itself, GasLand, Restrepo], and ro*co films international [credits: Hoop Dreams, The Invisible War, A Brave Heart: The Lizzie Velasquez Story, The Armor of Light, 3 1/2 Minutes, Ten Bullets].
If you want to get a film financed or distributed anywhere in the world, this is a really good place to be.
To get a better idea of what the EFM is all about, Nonfictionfilm.com spoke with Cristine Dewey, Managing Director of ro*co films international.
Nonfictionfilm.com: Why was it important for ro*co films international to have a presence at the EFM?
Cristine Dewey: The art of nonfiction filmmaking has been elevated to such an extent that it’s creating more opportunities for theatrical releases of these films. We feel it’s important for us to be here because we’re looking to really make sure we are well connected to all the theatrical distributors that have the capacity to take on a documentary film and market it well... I’m at EFM to meet with those distributors, talk to them, expand our relationships.
We also are here because we are repping National Bird, which is having its world premiere screening here in the special screening section of the festival.
NFF: Is ro*co films international a distributor? What's the right word for what the company does?
CD: It’s interesting. We’re kind of a hybrid. We call ourselves a foreign sales agent but we also work as a distributor and what that means is that we might connect with a distributor in France [for instance] who licenses all rights from us as the foreign sales agent and then does the distribution in the territory. But we might also act as the distributor for the territory where we’re working directly with the broadcasters, licensing those deals, looking for VOD opportunities in the territory and doing those. So we then are acting more as a distributor.
NFF: What kind of subject matter does ro*co gravitate towards?
CD: We’re drawn to really compelling stories that give international audiences a level of access that they might not get otherwise.
We’re representing Norman Lear: Just Another Version of You in the international markets, so we’ve worked with [directors] Heidi [Ewing] and Rachel [Grady] before and just really love the work they do... I think it’s a brilliantly constructed documentary so we’re very happy to be taking it out.
NFF: The documentary on Norman Lear premiered at Sundance. I know ro*co had a presence there.
CD: Sundance is where we end up picking up a lot of the documentaries we represent. We [also] attend the MIP markets both in April and then in October and we do a lot of the selling there. Here at EFM I’m meeting with distributors and selling and then also representing both National Bird and Hooligan Sparrow we picked up right before we came. EFM, I’m learning, is not necessarily a festival where you’re going to end up picking up a film to distribute because so often the films that come into EFM already have sales agents attached to them. So [that's] unlike Sundance and some of the other festivals.
NFF: Apart from Sundance and Berlin, where else does ro*co feel it's important to be?
CD: We like to have a presence at Sheffield [Doc Fest]. It’s a wonderful festival, great networking opportunity, Hot Docs is also very important for documentaries. Recently we’ve started going to South by Southwest. They’re really picking up some interesting documentaries. So my colleague Kristin Cooney will be there this year. I was there last year and that’s where we picked up Sara Bordo’s film, A Brave Heart.
NFF: At what stage of development do you like to begin working with filmmakers?
CD: We want to see a film when it’s at the rough-cut stage. We work with finished films and that’s where we feel like we have the opportunity to really evaluate whether our kind of ecosystem of buyers is going to work for them. Every once in a while we get involved in a project earlier and we’re tracking projects much earlier than we used to, staying on top of what’s out there in the marketplace.
We do targeted campaigns for each film we take on. We’re in this position where we’re fortunate -- we work with films that we’re passionate about and that we love. So what that means is we really do have to see a film when it gets to that finished stage to really have a sense of the story and what we can do with it.
NFF: With all that you're doing at the EFM, do you get the chance to see any of the films in the Berlinale?
CD: [Laughs] No. I always wish we had more opportunities to see films. I’m going to go to the press screening of National Bird and the world premiere. So I’m going there and will meet buyers who want to come and see the film here at EFM, and then attending the Hooligan Sparrow screening which is the other film we’re representing.
But it’s looking like, no, I’m not going to get to go out, unfortunately, and see some other films, which is too bad because... they get just a really wonderful collection of films that are here at the festival.
Matthew Carey is a documentary filmmaker and journalist. His work has appeared on CNN, CNN.com, TheWrap.com, NBCNews.com and Documentary.org.