International Disruptors: The Match Factorys Michael Weber & Thania Dimitrakopoulou On Their Passion For Arthouse Cinema & The Impact Streamers Can Have On Auteurs

If you haven’t heard of The Match Factory, you probably don’t work in the international arthouse film arena. The German sales and production outfit is one of the world’s leading champions of auteur cinema and has consistently been involved in a raft of festival-winning titles since its inception in 2006. From Cannes Palme d’Or winner Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives to Berlin Golden Bear winners Grbavica and Honey to Oscar-nominated titles Waltz With Bashir, Ajami, The Milk Of Sorrow, The Broken Circle Breakdown and Omar, the Cologne-based company is unwavering in its effort to bring distinct and striking titles to an international audience.

Michael Weber, managing director and mastermind behind the European outfit, and the company’s well-respected head of sales Thania Dimitrakopoulou, are in Cannes this week with their biggest and most eclectic festival slate to date. They’re representing 14 titles including Competition titles Memoria, from Thai helmer Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Ryusuke Hamaguchi’s Drive My Car and Nanni Moretti’s Three Floors (The Match Factory is co-repping North American rights with ICM on the latter two titles).

Then there’s Un Certain Regard projects Great Freedom from Sebastian Meise and Eran Kolrin’s Let It Be Morning (both titles also being co-repped by ICM for North America) as well as Prayers For The Stolen. This week, the company already struck a multi-territory deal with Mubi for Great Freedom on the ground in Cannes.

It’s also selling Neon’s anthology feature The Year Of The Everlasting Storm, directed by a slew of auteurs including Jafar Panahi, Anthony Chen and Weerasethakul as well as Karim Aïnouz’s Mariner Of The Mountains, in the Special Screenings section while Antoneta Alamat Kusijanovic’s debut feature Murina is in Directors’ Fortnight.

“It feels like a super strong comeback,” says Dimitrakopoulou. “But it’s a very competitive year. One distributor told me the other day that it’s like being in a candy shop and they wanted to buy everything because there are so many good films out there. But I have full trust for our films and confident they will be rolling.”

For Weber, a former Bavaria Film Group sales exec who founded The Match Company 15 years ago with his Pandora Film partners Reinhard Brundig and the late Karl Baumgartner, it’s a welcome return to a scene the company knows so well after a year of lockdowns and hybrid festivals – showcasing global auteur voices on the big screen in front of an international audience. The company held on to a clutch of these titles throughout the year, carefully planning the best life for each film, most of which are heavily reliant on festival buzz to enable them to travel and get sold.

“Most of our films have a strong auteur background and to imagine a movie, especially like Memorial not on the big screen in a physical festival was basically impossible for us,” Weber tells Deadline. “That also goes for Nanni [Moretti] who was very clear that he would like to be seen on the big screen and for the film to be shared with an audience at a physical event. So, these were things we were working on for the last 15 months and we worked for this moment and the fact that now it’s happening is so exciting. But it was also actually, in many cases, a very conscious decision shared with the filmmakers and the producers.”

Dimitrakopoulou adds: “It’s essential for these films to get festival buzz, to be seen by the critics and the press. We have four or five first and second time feature directors and this experience to see the festival circuit and have a physical exchange with an audience is something they were all dreaming about.”

It’s this kind of steadfast dedication and genuine passion for these films that makes it easy to see how The Match Factory has become such an essential figure in the arthouse world. Weber’s deep-rooted relationships with auteur filmmakers coupled with his ability to structure intricate co-productions make him and his company a unique European kingpin.

“I’ve never met someone who cares, agonizes and pours over independent arthouse films as much as he does,” one industry insider says. “He pays attention to every detail and is so involved early on in many of these projects.”

Indeed, The Match Factory came aboard the majority of these titles at script stage and three features – Memoria, Evolution and Kornél Mundruczó’s Prayers For The Stolen – were co-produced by the company, a typical amount of titles that the company co-produces each year.

“The role of the sales agent has changed massively over the last 10 to 15 years,” Weber says. “We are much more involved with projects much earlier on than when we first started out. We go deeper when it comes to setting them up internationally but also, we find co-production partners and sometimes even producers for the projects.”

The company has positioned itself as an attractive home for global auteur cinema, not least because of the bespoke approach it offers filmmakers but also the strong but small team of skilled execs that Weber has assembled in Germany. The European country still remains one of the most attractive territories for those looking to co-produce, thanks to its raft of funding and soft money options available to producers.

The Match Factory has also made a concerted effort since its inception not to overreach but after the impact of the pandemic and the rise of the power of streamers, the indie outfit is aware of the need to adapt to an ever-changing landscape.

“There is a reality that the viewing habits of the audience have changed,” admits Weber. “As a producer, we have to look into that and do what makes sense for each project, whether it means making a project with an eye to sell to a streamer or if we are making a project to release in a cinema. We already saw before Covid and before the streamers that there are too many movies in cinemas which were basically cannibalizing each other and I think we’ll see that this fall again. So, in order to make it blossom again on the auteur side, we will see a reduction of films being released theatrically and then we will need to find them a different home. It can’t be that they only play the festival circuit because it’s not a healthy business model for a sales agent.”

Weber says the company is always looking for different ways to sell movies whether it be to smaller or bigger platforms and it’s also looking at exploiting its catalogue to “keep things alive and keep movies seen.”

“At the same time if we look into what Netflix or Amazon Prime is playing, it’s not exactly the audience which will watch an Apichatpong [Weerasethakul] movie,” says Weber. “That is a matter of fact. But there will always be movies at the end of the day which might reach a much bigger audience through a streaming platform than through a classic theatrical distribution model.”

Weber points to Hungarian helmer Mundruczó as an example of a filmmaker known in a the cinephile world who has benefitted from streamer exposure. The Match Factory had sold the some of the director’s films in the past, which saw limited theatrical returns but when Mundruczó’s Pieces Of A Woman was acquired by Netflix last year after the film premiered in Venice and Toronto, it expanded the director’s reach worldwide.

The Match Factory is selling the director’s next film Evolution in Cannes, and Weber feels confident they can benefit from the success Mundruczó had on the platform.

“I think Pieces Of A Woman is an amazing example of a movie which was about a very challenging topic combined with some great filmmaking that was able to reach so many people and stirred a lot of debate,” he says. “We were not involved in that film, but it was an extremely good experience to follow what happened to that project. It shows we can see there is something very fruitful coming out of the platform so we can’t condemn that but at the same time not all of our movies can suddenly find a home in the streaming business if they cannot be a big success. That’s definitely not the case but I think we are trying to find on a case-by-case basis, if we have the option from the streamers, what is the best for the life for a movie and also for the career of a filmmaker.”

It’s this personal passion for the careers of these independent voices that is the DNA of The Match Factory and makes it such a distinct European company and whatever the future of the business, this is a company that has a true love for unique voices in global cinema.

“These types of films are so special when you understand how much of the personal aspects are put into all of these stories,” says Dimitrakopoulou. “I see how much time it takes to bring these films together and that makes them very attractive for me to really do my best to get them out there and make sure they are seen. Plus, on a personal level, I always find I learn something or understand something after I’ve seen these types of films and that is such a gift.”

“All of these films we are involved with are totally inspirational,” says Weber. “That’s the biggest thing. They have really changed me as a person over the last 20 years of doing this job. I mean, I studied engineering at university. They have given me so much and they give something to our society, which sometimes I feel is missing. Sometimes it’s just a small little scene that can be so impactful, like the ending scene of Le Havre, when this tree is growing outside of the door, and you know there is hope. It’s these different aspects, which we sometimes might not see in our daily lives, that are so beautiful and important to me in these movies.”

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