This Way Up 2016: The Problem With Abundance

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Wendy Mitchell (British Council – chair), Bobby Allen (MUBI), Allison Gardner (Glasgow Film), Ben Luxford (BFI), Jason Wood (HOME).

Filmmakers, distributors and exhibitors – you may wish to sit down because the statistic with which Wendy Mitchell opens this panel may shock and disturb you: “In 2016, UK theatrical release will reach 900 films per year”.

That’s 16 films a week! Is this too much? Will it break the system? Could we be headed for a cinematic disaster of biblical proportions? Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies? Rivers and seas boiling? Cats and dogs living together?

Indeed there does appear to be an unsavoury smorgasbord of problems that arise from an abundance of theatrically released films. For Jason Wood, abundance creates a problematic hierarchy, where the most high profile studio-backed films will rise to the surface and independents can get lost in the mix. Logistical issues arise if too many films are screened, issues to do with the operation of the building and coping with the flow of so many films. Allison Gardner laments the avalanche of quality movies that occurs during awards season, when she can’t screen them all on release and there are other months in the year where great films are thin on the ground. Ben Luxford mentions that it may be 900 films and rising but distribution budgets are in decline.

But isn’t abundance itself a term with positive connotations? Bobby Allen speaks insightfully about MUBI’s experiences on the international film festival circuit. His question to filmmakers, producers and sales agents is this: what is your ambition? If it’s to connect films to an audience, you’ll have to look at online availability at some stage. Ben Luxford took up the idea that a film’s success can exist in more than one platform. This year has seen some surprisingly great results driven by audiences: The Hunt for the Wilderpeople, Rams, Embrace of the Serpent. Films that with or without extra distribution funding have benefited from theatrical infrastructures that are already in place.

Jason Wood proposed that abundance is also reflective of the filmmaking process becoming more democratised; a massive positive in terms of diversity. Consequently on demand and theatrical exhibition has to be seen as symbiotic, creating a future film culture that is based on cultural grounds, rather than purely commercial. Bobby Allen echoes this idea of on-demand services educating  audiences in independent and art film. A great on-demand experience can act as a gateway for going to an actual cinema more often.

Allison Gardner’s final comment proposed that the problem of abundance is a good problem to have, because ‘a world without indie cinemas wouldn’t have the problem of abundance, there would only be Star Wars’. And whilst there’s nothing inherently wrong with Star Wars (apart from Episodes 1 – 3), I think she’s nailed it.

Written by Neil Hepburn. Image: This Way Up 16, Eoin Carey.