“We connect all the dots across the value chain, especially for artistically or politically challenging films”
– The two partners in business and in life discuss their acquisition of the German sales outfit last year
Cineuropa spoke to Benjamin Cölle and Daniela Cölle, owners of the German sales outfit Pluto Film. We touched on several topics, including the company’s editorial policy, the current climate for arthouse distribution and how the role of the European sales agent is evolving.
Cineuropa: Could you touch on Pluto Film’s editorial policy?
Daniela Cölle: Pluto Film was launched at the Berlinale in 2015. It was established to showcase arthouse and crossover films from young, emerging talents – and in particular, their first and second features. I’ve been working for the company since 2016, and after Benjamin and I acquired Pluto Film from its previous owners in January 2022, the team of old and new colleagues have been under our leadership. The company handles six to eight films per year. It’s a small line-up, but after the pandemic, we decided to work on even fewer titles, so we could elaborate a detailed, successful strategy for each one of them.
Benjamin Cölle: When we took it over, the company was established within the arthouse and festival scene already. So it was important for us to keep that type of editorial policy, but also to expand it and make it more diverse. We are passionate about global cinema that’s able to resonate with the audience, thus we’re looking for strong cinematic voices from all over the world. Also, we became more open to genre titles and children’s films.
Do you happen to invest directly in projects as a co-producer?
BC: We’re starting to do that because I have a background in production, but it’s still something quite new for us. But as we step on board some projects very early, it totally makes sense for us to work on our original productions or serve as a minority co-producer.
Luckily, we’re out of the pandemic. How did the health crisis change your business?
DC: The paradox we’re facing is that things are moving faster and slower at the same time. While films are getting old much faster than before, buyers are very slow with their decisions and very careful with investments. This is because we have too many films on the market, and only a few get the recognition they deserve. In our experience, good relationships with producers and filmmakers are key, so we can develop tailor-made strategies that can make each film stand out. So there’s much more willingness to experiment, and that’s good news. We’re living in quite exciting times.
BC: It was certainly a bold move to acquire a company that is heavily dependent on the successful theatrical distribution of its titles, during the pandemic. As Daniela mentioned, we’re facing a situation, especially on the European market, where there are simply too many films that are aiming for festival and theatrical releases, and it’s disheartening to see that many of these fail to reach their intended audiences. Certainly, we’re not the only ones in the industry who are calling for a paradigm shift within the European funding landscape, to reallocate resources from excessive production to the successful distribution of movies. We feel it’s crucial to embrace the notion that quality, not quantity, must define our industry. While it’s impressive to witness a huge number of films being produced every year, this abundance often results in a dilution of artistic vision and hampers the chances of films reaching their target audiences.
We still believe in the power of the cinema as the best place to watch movies and believe that innovative theatrical distributors will continue to engage their audiences, so we’re more than happy to work with them. But since there are too many films on the market, it has become more and more difficult to stand out, even for A-list festival titles. Although cinemas have recovered and are in better shape than they were last year, it seems that for smaller titles, theatrical distribution is mostly useful to raise their profile within the territory. But then the actual money for these films is mostly collected through TV and VoD deals. This is definitely something that has shifted.
Could you mention some of the recent titles you’ve been working on?
DC: One of our recent titles was Anna Buryachkova’s Forever-Forever [+see also:
interview: Anna Buryachkova
film profile], which played in the Orizzonti Extra section at Venice. We successfully managed a social-media campaign in collaboration with Alphapanda. Within two weeks, the trailer had racked up 110,000 interactions on Instagram, so it was very well received. We’re now in the process of continuing the film’s festival run and talking to distributors. We have also boarded the Karlovy Vary Jury Prize winner, Behrooz Karamizade’s Empty Nets [+see also:
interview: Behrooz Karamizade
film profile], which is now playing on the international festival circuit. These two films are the strongest titles we’re working on at the moment.
How do you think the role of the European sales agent is evolving?
BC: We have already had a discussion with Europa International, and we were wondering whether we are still using the right name to define our job. We’re doing much more than selling films because we connect all the dots across the value chain, especially for artistically or politically challenging films. We’re bringing movies from a local to a global outreach, so our objective is to inspire co-operation. For example, we can help [someone working on] a Spanish marketing campaign by connecting them with the Italian distributors, who have just launched their film successfully. Or we enable co-operation, so that TikTok videos produced by a distributor for one territory can be reused and translated by one operating in another territory. As we’re building a bridge between filmmakers, producers and distributors, we’re also moving towards the US model. We’re becoming something closer to talent agencies as we give films more visibility from the early stages of production and manage talents as well, including stars and directors. We’re at the forefront of this change.