RAM on demand: Art-house distrib Film Movement launches new label for edgy genre films
The digital revolution has changed just about everything in media and entertainment. So why not the age-old notion of genre films, that they’re no longer just cheesy throwaways for easy-to-please knuckleheads or superficial B-pic fare loaded with action, sex, violence or gore and bereft of the heft fussier viewers want?
The new RAM Releasing, an offshoot label of 12-year-old art-house distributor Film Movement, is doing just that as it prepares to launch four inaugural acquisitions into theatres and smaller screen platforms. Although both operations scout worldwide, they are based in Manhattan.
Launched in early 2014 following that familiar digital-age ritual of a soft (beta) tryout last fall, RAM will debut theatrically APP, Moebius, A Life in Dirty Movies and Cannibal (the latter two as co-releases with Film Movement). Yes, the genre DNA can be detected in all four, but there are other distinctions that blur the line between “genre” and “art,” no doubt yet another convergence that the digital revolution is spawning.
RAM’s mission is to find genre films from around the world and get them in the best way possible to young, connected audiences across theatrical, digital and home-video. Their entry into the darker, edgier side puts RAM into an arena where Magnolia’s Magnet, IFC Midnight and TWC’s RADiUS and Dimension Films already play. Luckily, the numbers of potential spectators—from devoted cinemagoers to the compulsively connected—keep rising and rising.
About their “genre” label, RAM Releasing VP of distribution and acquisitions Rebeca Conget says that “‘auxiliary’ is the better term because ‘genre’ is vague.” She explains that the features they’ve so far bagged are “films we really loved but they didn’t quite work with our Film Movement brand and label.”
Film Movement, of course, has been putting quality, award-winning independent and foreign films into theatres and ancillaries for well over a decade. Its more than 250 features and shorts have come from 50 countries and many have been top prize-winners at the major international festivals. In addition to releasing theatrical, the company began with the unique vision of being a subscription DVD club delivering their theatrically released art-house films on a regular basis to fans. Film Movement’s book club model continues but to a much lesser degree and no longer drives the company, which is now embracing a more traditional release structure for its titles.
Its expansion with RAM gives rise to the question of how “genre” and “auxiliary” are distinct, as both words characterize the move. But RAM executives see no stigma with the word “genre.” Says Conget, “It’s not that we think ‘genre’ is lesser or that they are not as good as what Film Movement handles, but only that these films we’ve run into and found [for RAM] are different and we just didn’t want to pass them up.” But whether for Film Movement or RAM, “We’re going for high standards no matter where our films land,” declares RAM co-president Adley Gartenstein. Explaining RAM’s embrace of these “different” titles, Gartenstein adds, “These films are edgier and darker.”
And they are surprising. From the Netherlands comes APP, a “second-screen techno-mystery thriller” that RAM is hyping as “a milestone/landmark first in cinema history that is the first ‘second screen’ film to ever be shown in theatres.” This means that audiences can download an app on their phones before entering theatres and keep their phones on (but texting and talking isn’t allowed). With the phone's screens being "second screens,” audiences, prompted by phone buzzes via sensory sound transmission, can get supplemental scenes, clues, etc. that complement what’s on the big screen.
More conventionally, APP, which arrived day-and-date beginning May 8 in theatres in 24 markets, boasts a strong female protagonist and an intriguing mystery at its center. It tells a horrifying story of a college student who finds herself victimized by IRIS, the pernicious rogue app that has invaded her cellphone, endangers her friends and a beloved brother, and won’t go away. Just who is responsible for the evil app that puts so many in jeopardy demands attention. Terrific visuals and a fast pace keep eyes glued.
Also surprising is the doc A Life in Dirty Movies, the colorful, color-me-blue story of the recently deceased movie auteur Joe Sarno, a serial shlockmeister known for his soft-core films that eschewed the graphic. Opening in September, the Swedish production fascinates because Mr. and Mrs. Sarno are just regular folk who happened to spend many decades making “dirty movies” that achieved somewhat of a reputation and following (especially among the raincoat crowd). A brief foray into hard-core when soft went south in the early ’70s is only alluded to as the rather likeable Sarnos and their largely tacky but harmless sex films fill the screen.
Filmmaker Wiktor Ericsson had terrific access to his subjects and considerable archival footage. Sarno, just a regular Long Island guy, made one of his soft-core hits in Sweden and he and his wife (also a gung-ho fan of the genre and her husband, in spite of coming from an upper-middle-class family) had a second home in Stockholm.
RAM’s Moebius, due August 15 in from three to five markets, has a wonderful surprise that’s best not to give away. Suffice it to say that sound effects here do a lot of the heavy lifting in this boundary-pushing, violent and perverse tale of a seemingly normal but cold South Korean family who get swallowed into a gore-fest of castration, rape and murder. And it’s all done with an attention to style.
Gartenstein and Conget credit the film, from well-known director Kim Ki-duk, for finally pushing Film Movement into the genre area with RAM. They found the film at the Toronto Film Fest and, Gartenstein recalls, “we thought it brilliant, but no way did it fit in our Film Movement brand. It got incredible critical praise, so we went to see it. Then we said, ‘We have to do this.’”
He continues, “For over 12 years we [at Film Movement] saw so many good films we wanted but had to pass over because they weren’t a good fit for the Film Movement brand. But Moebius got us to make the move to form RAM.”
Manuel Martín Cuenca’s Spanish film Cannibal, which RAM releases July 23 in about 15 markets, surprises as a romantic drama that has art film stamped all over it were it not for the disturbing cannibal anti-hero at its center. He’s a quiet, high-end Granada tailor with yet another side to his character, a surprising one, that is beyond sewing and cutting. Fortunately, the titular dark act committed is not graphically conveyed, although sharply alluded to, and most of the violence is off-screen. A surprise also derives from the film’s neat concept of a demon love story, which turns the film into a twisted romance.
The acquisition is evidence of how RAM values classier elements (the film is creepy but also often poetic and haunting) in what might otherwise have been dismissed as pure genre. Says Conget, “Cannibal is a perfect example [of blurring lines] because we would have acquired the film [for Film Movement] even if RAM hadn’t existed. Yes, it has a genre element, but so much more. So we’re co-releasing so we can reach beyond the genre crowd. We’re trying to educate audiences and bring in broader audiences.” Gartenstein adds, “Genre audiences don’t expect quality, so we’re trying to create higher expectations for them for films that have traditionally fallen into this category.”
Asked about how the new division finds its titles as it competes with other auxiliary labels from art-house distribs playing the game, Gartenstein says RAM uses a team of 15 people, some of whom—he and Conget among them—go to the ten festivals covered (Cannes, Tribeca, Berlin, and other usual suspects). This year acquisition eyes will be scouring Montreal’s upcoming Fantasia Film Festival for the first time. The team also covers relevant markets like one in Argentina for genre.
So with the biblical flood of content up for grabs, what does RAM look for? Answers Gartenstein, “At Film Movement we always acquire films we love, so the first criterion is: Do we love this movie? And do we believe in this movie and does it offer a story told from a fresh perspective? And these criteria hold for RAM. If you’re only mainly after films you’re guessing will perform at the box office, you sacrifice quality.” Adds Conget, “We never buy something we don’t like.”
And for all those in the specialty game, there’s that added marketing challenge with so much content, so many platforms available, and so many ways to spread the word. RAM approaches the challenge on a title-by-title basis and provides some examples of new and old ways of creating awareness. With APP, the company is leveraging the technology angle. As Conget explains, “We want people to know about the second-screen capability that is an add-on for viewers and actually provides a richer experience and more important information beyond what the first screen provides.”
And because the film is about a rogue phone app that wreaks hellish havoc, RAM is getting word out via mobile campaigns and no print. Gartenstein reminds that advertising on mobile is exploding and notes that promotions for APP are also appearing as ads in games.
The campaign for Moebius, however, will be more traditional, as filmmaker Kim Ki-duk “is well-respected in the art-house world,” Gartenstein affirms.
And it’s no surprise, of course, that RAM is active on de rigueur social-media sites such as Twitter, Facebook and the like.
Regarding how RAM, based on Film Movement’s experience, will be dealing with accounting and accountability (tallying for small screens is more opaque), Conget acknowledges that numbers are clearer in theatrical runs. But theatres aren’t where the main action will be for RAM’s titles. Viewing is often more vigorous in nontheatrical, but, she says, “we don’t have a gauge yet for how our RAM titles will perform nontheatrically, because they haven’t been out there yet. But we have a lot of experience with our Film Movement titles, and we anticipate strong performances from these titles on these platforms.”
One thing the execs are certain about is the audience for their films. “We know they are out there,” Gartenstein declares.
The initial RAM releases are genre without guilt and certainly a cut above the usual. Add to that plenty of entertainment value, surprise and quality. At the very least, RAM will test the possibility that, in a digital era where everything converges, so can genre and art.