09 novembre 2011

October 2011 releases USA

- Cultural Diversity Awareness - 

Let's take a look at the monthly release batch on USA screens, for October 2011, the national month of "Cultural Diversity Awareness", supposedly (hopefully) the most diverse period for American distribution...

ALL RELEASES USA Oct2011 (red=USA / colour=foreign)
"LIMITED RELEASES" USA Oct2011 (black=USA / colour=foreign)

Note that there are a lot of USA films relegated to the "limited release" limbo... it's not just the foreign films being silenced. Hollywood keeps at bay both foreign films and indies! (see here)
Usually the "commercial" releases (mainstream, populist, lowbrow, entertainment, teen flick...) monopolize the largest majority of screens. It's normal, because the largest crowd wants to watch these and we need to open enough seats for them. BUT, instead of the natural curve described by the Long Tail consumers, on the USA market we notice a drastic break between the top 16 titles (owning 97% of the screens) and the rest... 49 titles struggle and share the remaining 3% of screens (272 arthouse screens for a country of 310 million population!). There are more "press screenings" organised for the free previews, for the film reviewing community, than there are opened to the paying public! This is insane. Half of these "limited release" films, both foreign cinema and American "indies", get a single digit number of screens, and will never expand to wider release. This equates to a virtual invisibility in such a large country! Even for a huge city such as NYC, opening a couple of screens for a given film doesn't give a chance to the 20 million populating this mega-pole to discover it, except for a chosen few. 
The American distribution system only knows 2 speeds : 2000 screens or 30 screens, no grey areas. If this doesn't indicate a structural corruption of the system, what will? The producer-exhibitor monopoly has been ruled illegal since 1948, really? What a coincidence that even without official "collusion", we still see the major studios hegemony on the exhibition circuit... 
Let's just say that the USA released 25 titles nationwide in October 2011 (an average of 5 per week), and the rest only opened locally in NYC and LA... That's the name of the game. Not ALL Americans get to choose from the 68 titles line up.

  • Total number of screens in the USA (2010) = 39,028 (26% of world market!)
  • Total number of titles releases (30 Sept-3 Nov 2011) = 68 (avg 13.6 per week)
    • American titles = 51 titles; 39568 screens (91.8%)
      • USA = 42 titles; 34746 screens
      • USA co-production = 9 titles; 4822 screens 
    • Non-American titles = 17 (25%); 3569 screens (8.2%)
      • UK co-prod = 2 titles; 280 screens
      • Non-English titles = 15 (22%); 3289 screens (7.6%)
        • India = 3 titles; 77 screens 
        • 2 titles each : Spain, Germany, China
        • 1 title each : Netherlands, Mexico, Iceland, France, Finland, Congo

Because it is impossible to find FREE online data about foreign films distribution, I have to do it myself, and count films and screens manually. They only care about publishing a business report on how much money their movies make, and they are even incapable of distinguishing between USA proper and Canada in their datas, as they consider Canada an integer part of their commercial market! I'm sure the addition of Canadian numbers inflates the domestic/foreign ratio since Canada (and especially Québec) does a better job at showing a wider diversity of world cinema than the USA. And they think that Mexico doesn't belong to whatever they call "North America".
I can only bother doing it for one month (Oct 2011), but this should really be a yearly survey to compare to every other countries that do publish such surveys. Someone in America should take up on the task, and publish detailed statistics about the releases by country of origin and their weight on the market, every year (instead of making graphs that distinguish between Major-studio-owned distributors and pseudo-independent distributors... this is a business consideration, not a culturally sound segmentation). 


When we look at the catalog of film titles proposed on commercial distribution for that month, it is actually pretty diverse. 75% domestic - 25% foreign is a reasonable compromise. It's the lowest limit, but it's within reason I'd say, especially since the USA has a large domestic production (which fatally implies less room for the foreign competition). Somewhere between 75% and 25% for foreign cinema should be alright in any country. Less than that and you're denying the world to influence your own culture. Over that limit and you're letting the world appropriate your own culture, at the expanse of home-grown artists.
And contrary to other countries, foreign films come in subtitled in the USA, because spectators hate dubbing, which is a great thing for cultural diversity. It is always better to listen to the original voices, even if we don't understand them, because intonations and the melody of an idiom is characteristic of a culture. Not to mention dubbing often makes the audience forget that the films are actually made elsewhere, and tend to mistake them as part of their own national cinema.
There is also a nice share of co-productions, indicative of an opening of Hollywood with world collaboration  (although the results might not necessarily be inclusive of world culture, more like outsourcing production to places where it's cheaper).
As you see, the foreign films are almost evenly split between Europe (10) - surprisingly not dominated by UK - and the Rest of the World (7) with India, China, Mexico and Congo.
However the English language (80%) tends to dominate, not leaving the room deserved by Spanish language (since 26% of American movie goers are Hispanic), with only 3 Spanish films by Spain and Mexico. And the 63% of caucasian spectators should include all sorts of non-English backgrounds/ancestry (German, Dutch, French, Russian, Israeli, White-Hispanic...) and should inflate the interest in non-American culture, if only a few of them. Add to this 12% of African-American and the remainder 6% (Asians, American Indians, Pacific islands)... The American population is a diverse mix itself, but the diversity of culture offered by commercial distribution is a lesser mix. Whereas this country should show the world's highest interest in mixed-culture cinema because of the particular immigration history and demographic diversity present in its population unlike almost anywhere else in the world.

Now the distribution of screens for these films paints a different picture. If there is a decent share of foreign titles available on commercial screens, they are relegated to an insignificant number of screens for a country of that size, rendering them de facto invisible to the general population and the average movie goer. 91.7% of screens show exclusively American-made films, and 99.3% of screens show English-language films! So the 25% of foreign films are shown on 8.3% of the screens. And that includes The Three Musketeers 3D, which is a Hollywood-like blockbuster made by an Europe-America co-production (Germany/France/UK/USA) and shot in English language with familiar Hollywood actors. It's like when Harry Potter or James Bond are listed as a "British" movies... Anyway. If we ignore this pseudo-Hollywood vehicle, we are left with 272 screens (out of a nationwide total of 39028) reserved for non-English cinema in the USA (0.6%) which is ludicrous! What kind of a "melting-pot" is this?
In a country of 310 million inhabitants, just imagining that less than 300 screens show non-English cinema doesn't seem right. The number of screens is a direct correlation to the visibility of these films, and inevitably translates into the admissions ratio of 95% domestic / 5% foreign. Of course, world cinema is never going to exceed 10% of the admission market, and hasn't in the past 3 decades (see here) with only 0.6% of the screens offered to the movie goer population!!! 
The USA does not resort to legal quotas or subsidies or tariff to limit the number of foreign films. No. That's not even their excuse for such pitiful scores. It is the "natural" result of the "free market". Unfortunately, I doubt this is free in practice. There is a great deal of national-centric indoctrination, cultural isolationism, stereotypes, self-sufficient media, fatalism of cultural arbiters, anti-intellectualism, anti-art and all the Dan Kois who prefer pop corn to vegetables... This is obviously a recipe for success of patriotic exclusive consumption of nationally-made products, and disregard or even ridicule anything made outside of motherland. 
  • Studios make too many movies for their own good!
  • Studios buy rights to remake popular entertainment/art made abroad!
  • Distributors refuse to buy foreign films, even at major festivals! 
  • When foreign films are bought, they are either shelved indefinitely, go direct-to-video, or are quarantined on a handful of screens only visited by hipsters!
  • Movie reviewers incessantly bash film festival line ups, "boring" foreign films, insinuate foreign films get a free ride, and that there are too many of them oppressing their self-serving taste!

This situation might be the result of a poorly educated general population, and the plethoric production of Hollywood, which clearly makes way more films than is necessary for their market. They make more films than China! Come on. And anybody, even the average movie goer, will agree that more than half of it is substandard, not only artistically, but even for the basic entertainment consumption (poor acting, plotholes, pompuous CGI, facile dialogue, stock characters, stereotypes, unoriginal stories...). They could really afford to cut their production in half (they don't even distribute all films produced each year!), and welcome quality foreign entertainment, as well as quality art films made abroad. They could. For the benefit of their customers, to enrich American culture, to broaden the minds, to be more open to world culture, to better reflect and represent the ethnic/cultural/language diversity present in the very fabric of the America population. Starting with their Latin-American neighbours.
If regular movie goers do not want to go try non-Hollywood cinema, willingly and consciously, in earnest, then it's the responsibility of cultural educators to change these narrow-minded minds and help their taste evolve towards a greater sensibility to differences, diversity and richness of neighbour cultures. 

But a poor taste of consumers is not the only culprit, and is certainly not beyond improvement and evolution in the future *IF* educators take their responsibilities! If the film press stopped publishing B.S. and cared a bit more about changing the isolationistic distribution system they live in, instead of playing along... If critics had higher aspirations and cleaner ethics... If exhibitors took more risks for quality cinema (be it foreign entertainment or artfilms) instead of clinging to easy money promised by bad remakes... If distributors displayed more discernment in picking quality cinema and selling it better... If film schools formed open-minded and competent students rather than Hollywood-wannabees... If cultural studies cared about quality cinema rather than whatever zeitgeist phenomenon is best representative of the American population...
There are lot of things to do, and reviewing imported DVDs and films that are only available on 6 screens nationwide is NOT ENOUGH to push for fundamental changes. This isolationism will not fix itself, it is petrified by a powerful cultural inertia. Anytime someone talks about foreign cinema, it sounds elitist or "boring" in the American consciousness. So talking about it in small amounts always meets the same rejection. To overcome this barrier, a radical transformation of society and culture is necessary before any improvement could even start developing.

You do not need to compare the American distribution system to the one of France to understand there is something fundamentally wrong with only showing world cinema on 0.6% of your screens! Or do you?

Source : NYT (October releases); IMDb; Box Office Mojo; My spreadsheet 
Other titles which data (screens) is missing :
Bombay Beach (2011/USA); Cargo (2011/USA); Everyday Sunshine: The Story Of Fishbone (2010/USA); Father of Invention (2010/USA); Glitch in the Grid (2011/USA/UK); Klitschko (2011/Germany); Norman (2010/USA); Silver Bullets (2011/USA); The Nine Muses (2010/Ghana/UK); The Reunion (2011/USA); The Swell Season (2011/USA-CZ-IE)

Note: Sum of screens may exceed total number of screens available (I counted the max number of screens reached by each film in October)

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3 commentaires:

HarryTuttle a dit…

"[..] Just days after its release, on a public holiday, the halls were not packed. Regular Hindi film fans complain that the film is silly. But then, a typical hit Hindi film is not “Citizen Kane.” Far from it. [..]
Hindi cinema has survived the cultural conquest of Hollywood in India because Hollywood cannot make Hindi films. But a sci-fi film, even if it is a Hindi sci-fi, is pitted directly against the Hollywood experience, and this is a vastly unequal battle. The economics of a major Hollywood film, which has a global market, supports a budget of a few hundred million dollars. [..] The nation’s cultural mainstream is North Indian in character. South India, which is almost half the country, is somehow fringe. And the north of India perceives the south through moronic but enduring clichés. The perception is decades old. “Ra.One” feeds North Indians exactly what they think they know about South Indians."
"A Bollywood Sci-Fi that is Neither" (Manu Jospeh; NYT; 11-9-2011)

HarryTuttle a dit…

"Distribution isn't keeping up with the best in international cinema; much great work is getting seen a day here and a day there in special series but not finding a regular release. Video-on-demand or streaming video could potentially take up some of the slack; but it would become increasingly necessary to question the very definition of release in terms of theatrical release."
Richard Brody (indieWIRE 2011 poll)

HarryTuttle a dit…

"I also feel shorted in that the "Studio System Awards Season Game" makes it difficult for film critics in smaller towns and regional areas to see many films that are probably some of the best of the year. Had I been provided an opportunity to see them I'm guessing "Margaret," "A Dangerous Method," "War Horse," "We Bought a Zoo" and many others that are on my most anticipated list would have found a way onto my year's best."
Don R. Lewis (indieWIRE 2011 poll)