Agence du court métrage tests distribution of digitised short films
The French short film agency has been running its distribution network Réseau alternatif de diffusion (RADI) for 20 years now – a subscription system enabling cinemas to borrow a different short each week as supporting film, for a single annual fee. The distribution catalogue currently lists 250 titles.
In the wake of increasing digitisation at the cinema, the short film distribution system run by the Agence du court métrage must now reposition itself. As first step, a survey was conducted of cinemas taking part in the RADI network. The next step is a pilot project in which a selection of 20 to 30 films will initially be offered to cinemas as Digital Cinema Package (DCP) for 2K projection.
The results of the survey revealed that most cinemas are still awaiting public funding for digitisation, but that they want to go digital at the latest during 2011. Many of the cinemas with a short-film subscription to RADI have only one screen and plan to initially operate both digital and 35mm projection in parallel. Some cinemas with several screens are thinking about reserving one of them for 35mm films.
At least as interesting as the responses to the survey were the questions it prompted in return from the respondents. Many cinema operators expressed concern about the consequences of digitisation. The short film agency was however unable to answer most of the questions due to the lack of sufficient experience with digital exhibition.
Some of the questions left open relate to the technology itself. For example, whether it will be possible to show titles stored on different media (film and digital) in a single programme or on a single screen. Costs and rental fees were of course also an issue. On this front, the short film agency was able only to assure respondents that transport costs would go down.
Still unclear is whether the rental fee for digital media can be reduced as well. One argument advanced by the proponents of digitisation is that it costs less to produce prints. This only applies, though, to mass numbers of prints. Up to now, RADI has made between six and fifteen 35mm distribution prints, as needed. With such small numbers, the savings effect will be limited, at least as long as films are offered in both analogue and digital form.
The biggest cost factor for digital copies is the implementation of an encryption system. RADI has decided to work with the same security system (KDM) the big feature-film distributors use. But this is not really a necessity and just leads to further complications.
Because of the unclear cost situation for producing digital prints, RADI was likewise unable to give a positive answer to the question of whether digitisation will in future make it possible to distribute more short films than in the past.
Another problem is how the so-called “Circuits itinérants” are to be supplied with short films. These are travelling cinemas or screening groups in the non-commercial sector (clubs, cultural centres, schools, seasonal cinemas, etc.), which show primarily art films. With more than 130 screening groups and over 2,000 venues, this is not exactly an insignificant factor in France. The “Circuits itinérants” are especially important for supplying rural areas lacking any cinemas with opportunities to watch films.
Also unknown at this time is what will happen to the nearly 10,000 short films in the agency’s archive. Currently, the Agence du court-métrage is negotiating with the CNC to obtain funding to digitise at least a portion of the films.
Source: RADI enquéte, October 2010