Asian, European Buyers Discuss Declining Arthouse Box Office, Mull Solutions at Platform Busan: ‘Make the Experience of Cinema Desirable’

An influential panel of buyers from Asia and Europe identified multiple problems in the current, depressed post-pandemic box office landscape for arthouse films and attempted to find solutions at a Platform Busan panel on Monday.

The panel included Laure Parleani of Totem Films (France), Kim Heaok of Hark & Company (Japan), Beril Heral of Filmarti (Turkey) and June Lee from Korean streamer Watcha. The panel was moderated by Variety Asia editor Patrick Frater.

Parleani mentioned that France has had its worst box office September in 42 years, with only Rebecca Zlotowski’s Venice title “Other People’s Children” and Alice Winocour’s Cannes title “Revoir Paris,” both starring Virginie Efira, bringing some cheer amongst local fare.

“We have good news, but they’re still exceptions, that’s the issue,” said Parleani.

“There’s no good news at all,” declared Kim about Japan, adding that the market for arthouse films was declining even before the pandemic. Kim said that post-pandemic, some of the younger audiences were returning to cinemas but the older population remains afraid to come back. Kim said she faces a dilemma trying to find films that will work with both sets of audiences.

Heral said that admissions were low in Turkey, which also has the issue of censorship. In addition, weaning the younger audiences away from the streaming platforms they’d gotten used to during the pandemic was also a challenge, Heral said. Changing currency exchange rates have also become a significant negative for importers of international arthouse fare into Turkey because the local currency has weakened against the US dollar between the time the rights deal was agreed upon and the time it comes to paying for the titles.

Heral added that Turkey also suffered a low September because there weren’t enough new films to watch in cinemas.

Lee said that in Korea, while the most commercial titles – both local and international – are doing well, especially sequels, arthouse films are struggling. “Audiences are making the safest choices, not betting on the totally new films. That kind of behavior impacts the arthouse section because [audiences] would not choose arthouse films, they would just rather wait to be shown in OTT [streaming] platforms,” Lee said.

Moving to solutions, Parleani said: “We need to find a way to make the experience of cinema desirable, because it’s less than it was, it’s less comfortable,” adding that in many cases a large home screen and couch was more comfortable than the current in-cinema experience. Parleani added that festivals also have to step up and take the responsibility of finding new talents via their competition sections.

All the panelists agreed that the pressing need was to reach out to younger audiences via marketers who had a sound grasp of social media, because traditional methods like press communications and TV spots are not working anymore.