Distributor (UFO Distribution – France)

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Amongst the ways in which a film reaches the general public, it is still obvious (despite what we might think of the increasing importance of public opinion on the web and social networks - which is often more sensitive to the power of promotional campaigns) that film criticism is still, for arthouse cinema at least, the first to give legitimacy (or not) to the work. It’s the first vector for notoriety through a gaze that we have to assume is objective (or at least through disinterested subjectivity), with a variable but very much present impact on public opinion.
For a distributor who’s chosen more or less by themselves to support the commercialisation of a film, film criticism validates a choice that doesn’t only face market forces - exhibitors, audience numbers - but more qualitatively the “taste of others”. But which “others”? It’s not possible for us to summarise the tastes of all the audience members, with or without social media, and it probably wouldn’t be very useful.
So, the “others” are most probably the “cinema families”, the diverse leanings of the many critics of the French film sector, varied enough for each and everyone to find an echo of their own opinions. In that sense, we could think that criticism allows us to make films that go “against” the market, to validate a film or a filmmaker the market might not be keen on because it considers them incompatible with the specific criteria that guarantee commercial success.
It’s even quite common in our experience as distributors: exhibitors are so close to their audiences that they sometimes go as far as to ancitipate their tastes, which they will then try and reproduce in their programming choices.

Critics are really closer to the actual film, with their own reading of it embedded in a cultural (or counter-cultural) history that they’ve put together with the sort of distance and disinterest that us as sales agents, as exhibitors and as distributors focused on promotion might not always have.

It’s also the hope of seducing these disinterested critics that pushes us to make films or, when it comes to us specifically, to acquire and promote them. And even if we can’t convince the audience - many reasons can hold them back, competition, the weather, a touchy subject, the absence of stars etc. - reviews will act as a reference we will turn to when considering funding or acquiring the director’s or production team’s “next film”, which we assume critics will be waiting for with bated breath.

Stéphane Auclaire