When Martin Scorsese arrived at the 2009 Cannes Film Festival, he received a movie star’s welcome. But that was old news. Scorsese has been a Cannes staple for decades, both as a moviemaker and as a cause célèbre on his own. This time, however, Scorsese’s presence marked the start of something new.
Gathering a press conference at the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès, the legendary director announced a landmark partnership between his World Cinema Foundation (WCF) and two new media companies, B-Side Entertainment and The Auteurs. Their goal is to achieve one noble yet uncomplicated goal: Make a huge library of cinema available to more viewers than ever before.
Scorsese’s foundation, which archives and preserves neglected movies from various eras in film history, launched a collaboration with the companies before the conference had even come to a close. The Auteurs, a social networking site that streams movies, made four films from WCF’s library available to watch online for free (The Housemaid, Touki Bouki, Dry Summer, Transes).
So began the process: The Auteurs will regularly stream WCF films included in the annual Cannes Classics section—a festival program that screens restored and rediscovered films—followed by grassroots screenings arranged by B-Side at universities and film clubs. B-Side will also work with digital platforms such as iTunes and Netflix to make the movies available at various online locations. Finally, the Criterion Collection—a founding investor in The Auteurs—will release the films on DVD with its trademark treatment.
This multiplatform distribution cycle reflects a single strategy of building buzz. Just as independent distributors have experimented with day-and-date releases, the foundation plans to ensure the advocacy of its library by reaching audiences from multiple directions.
When films get discovered on The Auteurs, either blindly or through the site’s social network, visitors can seek them out on the big screen, thanks to B-Side. The movies will theoretically maintain audience interest all the way through to the Criterion DVD release.
“If these films are really loved, people will hear about it,” says The Auteurs ‘founder and CEO Efe Çakarel, reflecting on the plan over cappuccinos the day after the press conference.
Despite Çakarel’s carefully designed video compression rate, which allows the movies to look surprisingly lucid on a standard computer monitor, he readily acknowledges where they belong. “These films are meant to be watched on the big screen,” he says. “If there’s more awareness, there are more theatrical opportunities.”
B-Side founder and CEO Chris Hyams adds that the current partnership carries greater clout than previous new media efforts in the film community due to the famous face at its center.
“This is not just the latest low-budget digital short that no one wanted to pick up,” says Hyams. “This is Scorsese saying this is an acceptable and viable way for the [cinema] canon to reach the right audience.”
In that sense, it’s a monumental celebrity endorsement of new media, something that cinema needs now more than ever. “A lot of these films may have been mass market 50 years ago, but aren’t now,” says Hyams. “If there’s a specific audience, then digital marketing and distribution is really the way to efficiently reach them.”
At the festival, Scorsese presented a restored version of Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger’s classic 1948 dance epic The Red Shoes, which will eventually become available on The Auteurs. “I was so happy to see it in Cannes,” says Çakarel. “But if I wasn’t here, [The Auteurs] would be the only way I could access it.”
Çakarel views the site as a response to recent trends in media consumption. “There are a lot of people who get most of their entertainment on the Internet,” he says. “If you don’t make it accessible, they will never hear about The Red Shoes. ”MM
Visit www.theauteurs.com/wcf for more info and an introduction from Martin Scorsese.