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FRANCE

Manuel Chiche • Distributor, The Jokers

"We’re not trying to predict the future anymore"

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- French firm The Jokers head Manuel Chiche sheds light on the dilemmas currently faced by independent distributors who must either wait for cinemas to re-open or opt for VOD releases

Manuel Chiche  • Distributor, The Jokers
(© Lea Rener)

Discovered at Cannes’ Critics’ Week last year, Lorcan Finnegan’s Vivarium [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Lorcan Finnegan
film profile
]
was released in 65 French cinemas on 11 March, but only enjoyed four days exposure before movie theatres were forced to close. At this point, the film’s distributor Manuel Chiche (via The Jokers and Les Bookmakers) pledged to re-release the film once cinemas re-opened, but, as it turns out, the second feature film from the promising Dublin-born director will now be released on VOD in France (read our article), taking advantage of the exceptional relaxation of media chronology laws. Cineuropa made contact with Manuel Chiche to find out more and to get to the bottom of the challenging situation independent distributors are currently facing.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: Why the change of heart with Vivarium? Why did you abandon the idea of a cinema release in favour of VOD?
Manuel Chiche: We made the decision to make Vivarium available on VOD because you can already find it on all the pirate sites. As we don’t yet know when cinemas will re-open, in the current climate, a film returning to cinemas four or five months after an initial release could, in general, be found everywhere by this point. In fact, that’s another reason why we always try to release a film at the same times as in the US, or one or two weeks beforehand where possible. So, in the end, when faced with the choice of not much on VOD or nothing, we chose not much on VOD.

Is the release schedule for your other films an endless round of postponements?
We abandoned it a while back because I’d had enough of all the guess work involved for me and the team, week in, week out. It became pointless. We’re now working off the basis of July to see what that gives. When cinemas do re-open, we’ll be releasing the animated Korean film Nous, les chiens which is all ready to go, as all the relevant press representatives have already seen it. On 29 July, we’ll be releasing an old classic under the La Rabbia label: Shōhei Imamura’s Pluie noire, which is highly relevant this time round, given the current circumstances. And then on 5 August, if all is well, we’ll bring out Rubika Shah’s White Riot [+see also:
film review
film profile
]
, a documentary about a group of activists called Rock Against Racism, exploring how English youngsters made a stand against the National Front in 1970. Lastly, The Swarm by Just Philippot (read our article) is scheduled for 4 November.

What about your other titles?
In terms of Jérôme Guez’s Bluebird [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
(initially scheduled for 10 June), following the discussions we had with the producers, and at the director’s request, the film will be made available directly on VOD because we’re really worried about a potential backlog of releases once cinemas re-open, and because this is a first film, so it’s harder for it to establish itself. We also need to schedule Gerard Johnson’s Muscle [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Gerard Johnson
film profile
]
which has already had its premiere. In addition to this, we’re hoping to resume filming on Ogre by Arnaud Malesherbe (which The Jokers is co-producing and will be distributing in France, and whose film shoot was put on pause as a result of the March 16 lockdown, after two weeks of work, Ed.) in the not too distant future, but we still don’t have any clear idea of what’s going to happen. We were supposed to enter into pre-production on Inexorable, Fabrice du Welz’s new work (produced with Frakas Productions), but that’s also ground to a halt.

The entire film sector has been paralysed by the health crisis, and independent distributors are among those most at risk. Does the recent success in France of Parasite by Bong Joon-ho (1.88 million admissions in France) tide you over at all, financially speaking?
There’s still a lot of money out there when it comes to cinemas, which have been closed, so everything is at a standstill, which is quite frustrating for us. Financially, we’re on high alert. Theoretically, we should have been able to hold out a while longer. But the money is out there and we’ll access it once everyone has been back at work for a while. Overall, the uncertainty is getting a bit tiring. We’re not trying to predict the future anymore; we’re preparing ourselves for the day when we can get back to a more normal way of working. For now, the only thing we can do is move forwards with “advanceable” projects. As for the others, we have no control over the situation, it’s beyond us. That said, it’s not bad for works in development as we’ve got plenty of time and fewer interruptions.

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(Translated from French)

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