Thursday, August 6, 2009

Cuaron's Son Will Be Cananá's First Guinea-Pig

So it turns out that the indie scene in Mexico is experiencing a very similar transition period than the one in the U.S. The good news is that production south of the border has increased dramatically in recent years. The bad news is that their home video market is dead and they are desperate for other sources of revenue.

Variety reported this week that Cananá (the shingle from "Y tu mamá también" thesps and best buds Gael García Bernal and Diego Luna) will begin testing a new distribution model using SXSW 2008 selection "Año Uña" ("The Year of the Nail") as guinea pig. Their plan is to follow the IFC model of releasing films in arthouse theaters and weeks later on VOD. They've partnered up with television giant Televisa (my first employer out of college) who owns Cablevision in Mexico for the pay-broadcasts. Cablevision has an estimated 125,000 subscribers who would pay the equivalent of $4 dollars to watch each pic in the comfort of their own home. But will they?

The main issue here is that theater owners in Mexico are not looking upon this new model kindly. In fact, many of them, with the exception of the Lumiere arthouse chain, flat-out refuse to book the films. Their fears are understandable - everyone is scared shitless in this global economic climate. But in my humble opinion, I think they should stop worrying and have a margarita. As IFC has proven, theatergoers are theatergoers and they will pay to see films on a big screen regardless.

When reading about this I though back to earlier this year when an unfinished copy of "Wolverine" was leaked to torrent sites. The media made a big deal about it but the leak had virtually no impact on the film's box office. It won the first weekend handily, raking in $87 million. Either torrents sites aren't as widely known or the X-Men fan base is not as tech-savvy as I thought. Whichever the case, cinemas won.

Let's look at another, less-commercial example. "The Hurt Locker" was also leaked to torrent sites months before it opened. Yet, the film is one of the specialty box-office successes of the year ($9 million and counting). I just don't think the internet or VOD are such terrible foes. I mean, the same thing can be said of the food industry. Just because people can cook food at home doesn't mean they will never go out to restaurants. To me, VOD and sites like Snag Films and Hulu simply serve audiences who enjoy watching movies at home. Restricting availability on those platforms is probably not going to get those people to get off their asses and into their nearest Landmark theater.

To me, the bigger question here is whether Cananá can effectively get people excited about seeing arthouse fare at home. Are they reading the market correctly or are they driven by desperation? It remains to be seen.