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Yesterday I wrote about the obstacles that can arise when sales agents are working on distribution deals for films, which are therefore not available for festivals. But that’s not all – welcome to the wonderful world of premieres and holdbacks.

Everyone can imagine a world premiere: the new film by – let’s say – Park Chan-wook in Cannes, with the director and the stars on the red carpet, a lot of media attention and reviews everywhere. But not all films have a premiere that reaches everyone and everything. For example the films that premiere in the Midnight sections of Sundance (Park City, January) or South by Southwest (SXSW, Austin, March). Those premieres are well covered in North America, but not always elsewhere. Therefore, producers and their sales agents are looking for more premieres – screenings that generate extra publicity and extra interest from distributors and festival programmers. In addition to the world premiere, there is the international premiere, the premiere per continent (European, Asian, etc.) and then the premiere per country: Dutch, Belgian, etc.

It is a whole Christmas tree full of premieres and many festivals have strict rules about this. For example, the Cannes and Venice festivals only screen films in Competition if they are world premieres. For the side programs they settle for a European premiere or International premiere. But they don’t go lower than that. While a festival like the IFFR also screens films as a Dutch premiere. In short, this premiere policy largely determines the pecking order of festivals worldwide: the more prestigious the festival, the higher the requirement for premiere status.

It may happen that we would like to show a film that just had its world premiere in North America. In that case, the makers would like a European premiere at a festival that is as prestigious as possible, with a lot of press and professionals. As Imagine, we don’t belong to that category, so we may have to wait until a film has been screened at another European festival before it’s our turn. In many cases it will be a year later, and that is too late for us.

Another phenomenon is the so-called holdback, something that mainly applies to American films. Once they have a release date, it happens that no festival screenings are allowed anywhere in the world until that U.S. release date. It has to do with the fear of piracy, but also with media attention. Anyway, the rest of the world has to live with it. For example, if a film goes out in the US on November 11, we are not allowed to do anything until that date and therefore miss it.

Of course we try to work around these kinds of problems as much as possible and a lot of what we want also works out. But if you miss a title on our poster, it usually has to do with the laws of the international film world.

Chris Oosterom