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New York: Foreign Language Films in the US market

Against the background of an overall decline of US revenues from foreign films, Europe as the dominant source  of such productions has been surpassed by Asian Countries. Even for   internationally acclaimed films as evidenced by  awards and critical reviews, the income seems minuscule.  Of the 1000 foreign language films  which entered the US market since 1980, 70% scored less than $1 million and only 22 more than $10 million. For each successful foreign release there are dozen if not hundreds of failures, most never make it to this country (apart from screenings  at some  film festivals) nor ever enter distribution. According to Toby Miller in the 1960s imported films accounted for 10% of the US  box office, in 1986  we had 7% and now less than 1%. The few films entering US distribution have marginal results.  Look at the superb DEATH OF MR. LAZARESCU  which was released in the US in 2005 and scored only $80.000. The more aaclaimed and probably best film of 2009c WHITE RIBBON garnering the most awards last year is totaling now only 2.2 million after 20 weeks in US distribution 

Commercial distribution of foreign films is a high risk business for many  reasons. There has been a long term the shrinking  of the US audience for foreign language films with  observers guessing that the theatrical audience for these films  declined  by more than 60% over the last decade. This constraining development is also impacted by numerous other factors such as  ease of access to foreign films through alternative venues  like Netflix., the internet and Video on Demand platforms. Commercial venues for foreign films have become more limited due to  the proliferation of movies entering the theatrical market, the adoption of  carpet release patterns with few films booked into  larger numbers of theaters,  the concomitant reduction of available theatrical  ‘art houses' for foreign and independent films, and  last not least I suspect a decline in film culture as suggested here in my   May 5th  article  "From Pipelines to Film Culture?"

It is certainly not a decline in the number or quality of foreign language  films which  prompts a mute response by the US audience. To the contrary,  as any regular visitor of film festivals can attest and as  demonstrated by  the large number of awards these films generate. each year more and better films are produced in Europe, Asia and Latin America.  I also suspect that fewer US films receive international awards than in the past, though there is continued international dominance of US commercial movies with a global market share of about 65%.

Unless  there is a concerted effort by governmental agencies to engage in  cultural diplomacy  and provide the necessary film marketing subsidies as practiced by France,  or support from  public  officials such as the Indian secretary of state who believes that

Indian culture can be globalized through film or  projects by Indian  corporations like Reliance BIG  pictures to establish in the United States a distribution infra structure and adapt Indian films to the US market , chances for success  for foreign language films in the United States are rather slim, to say the least.

To be followed by an article on German films in the United States


Claus Mueller, New York Correspondent


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