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CANNES 2020 Marché du Film

Göteborg’s Nostradamus explores the post-pandemic new normal

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- The annual presentation of the acclaimed report featured industry experts in a discussion on how and when the return to normality could be expected

Göteborg’s Nostradamus explores the post-pandemic new normal
Nostradamus media analyst Johanna Koljonen and Tomas Eskilsson, Head of Strategy at Film i Väst at Göteborg’s Kulturakademin

Göteborg Film Festival’s Nostradamus initiative has made its annual appearance at the Cannes NEXT section of Marché du Film Online. Every year, the Nostradamus report is one of the most anticipated, aiming to predict the near future of the industry. Under the title “Making Choices: How to Build for a Better New Normal”, the session explored ways in which the industry can adapt in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. The session was introduced by Cannes NEXT head Sten-Kristian Saluveer who presented the host of the discussion, media analyst Johanna Koljonen from Göteborg’s Kulturakademin.

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After a brief introduction where Koljonen mentioned the lack of racial balance in an “all-white” panel, and how the serious issues of racism and the current pandemic affect the audience’s behaviour, she welcomed Tomas Eskilsson, Head of Strategy at Film i Väst, the regional fund which has co-produced over 700 feature films. According to Eskilsson, and at least in Sweden where pandemic measures were less strict, everything seems to be back to normal, although the challenge remains to decide where these productions will be shown and whether any international partners will be willing or able to visit and collaborate again with the region. The question about whether the production of high-end TV series might soar some more was also raised, as audiences turned to subscription services during lockdown and might be less eager to return to commercial TV.

As expected however, this demand cannot be met, since the creative sector is and will be suffering because many public and private funds will not be able to support it. Moreover, more streamlined drama series will probably be produced to address a wider audience. The pandemic also stalled the streaming wars: the newly launched HBO Max has already suffered from this, while Disney+ does not seem to have new original content ready on time, and the studios are forced to slow down on everything and to choose between prioritising cinema or streaming content. Once things are back to normal, however, the streaming wars will resume, too. According to Eskilsson, this return to normal could easily take up to one and a half years, as productions are expected to be more expensive with fewer films shot. This might in fact normalise a market where the overwhelming quantity of productions does not give films and series a viable market share. It is therefore possible that only a certain amount of productions will be fulfilled while cinemas transform and recover, and until they can increase their capacity.

Later, distribution was also the first topic discussed by the panel comprising international experts Marike Muselaers (Co-CEO, Lumiere), Matthijs Wouter Knol (director of the European Film Academy), Catharine Des Forges (Director, Independent Cinema Office), and Olle Agebro (Editor, Draken Film). It remains undecided whether theatrical windows should be respected, or if simultaneous releases which could reach a bigger audience are a realistic solution. On the industry side, the future of the festivals is also incertain, although all panellists agreed that they will not and could not be the same again or they would disappear, with Knol suggesting that balanced hybrid editions would give some professionals a chance to physically attend while also opening a wide window to internationally for everyone else. Muselaers agreed that the current virtual market gives a chance to go global, but argued that spontaneous meetings and project pitches at a real, physical market are missing and irreplaceable.

The future of film exhibition is similarly uncertain, but certain companies such as Lumiere managed to close their cinemas on time and to launch an online platform. However, it will take more time to set and develop these schemes in a sustainable way. The lack of data mining is also a crucial issue, as physical cinemas do not have access to them and festivals cannot exactly provide more data other than showcasing the films; the responsibility comes down on the platforms to do the research and decide what the audience will want. Panellists agreed that, despite its faults, the existing network should be preserved and improved.

Regarding the future, all suggested that festivals will probably turn towards a more “regional” approach, at least in terms of their physical presence, and that it will probably take some time before people physically attend foreign festivals again. As Knol added, the environmental issue still remains high on the agenda, and in combination with travel restrictions, a new and more simplified model might be established. While hybrid editions could be beneficial in some ways, allowing more people to attend virtually, they would also negatively impact international co-productions.

The session closed with Koljonen debriefing the Nostradamus report and its main topics (find out more in our interview). She also updated her findings with recent events, questioning the role of festivals in their outreach to cinemas. The biggest unanswered question remains: which film would be worth watching at a physical event and risking your health for?

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