Cannes’ NEXT Pavilion: Do digital and cinema mix?

Building audience loyalty, developing virtual reality and supporting digital media creation: a look back on the main trends that dominated the second edition of the NEXT Pavilion at the Marché du Film of the Cannes Film Festival.

According to the L.A. Times, it is in 2015 that the Cannes Festival took the technological plunge. Indeed, technology sent unusual shock waves through an industry with the reputation of being a bastion of the old school when it comes to business.

From the appearance of a virtual reality helmet in a film selected for the official competition (Joachim Trier’s Louder Than Bombs) to the very visible presence of Vimeo’s and Amazon’s acquisition teams, not to mention the epidermal reactions to Netflix’s conqueror speech on the film acquisition and distribution model, digital was without question the source of as many discussions and rumours as the number of films making up the official selection of the 68th Cannes Film Festival.

The birth of a digital market at the heart of the seventh art

In 2013, Cannes’ Marché du Film made a first attempt at taking stock of the increasing impact of digital innovations on the film industry by setting up the Cross Media Corner. At the heart of this temple of the seventh art were showcased for the very first time dozens of transmedia projects and platforms of all kinds, including Vincent Morisset’s Bla Bla (produced by the NFB). It was placed in a Cabinet of Curiosities that stood out amidst the kiosks of international vendors, in fact so much so that the initiative was axed after its first edition.

Its successor, the Cannes NEXT Pavilion, appeared the following year and opened up to all sectors of the film industry: financing, production, distribution, sales, etc.

A series of conferences and workshops was held to showcase public funding platforms, multiplatform marketing initiatives, emerging video on demand (VOD) services and a session to pitch interactive projects influenced by film—including Canada’s multiplatform suspense Le Judas by Ziad Touma (Couzin Films/Kung Fu Numerik/Radio-Canada).

In its second year, the Marché du Film doubled the bet by significantly expanding the NEXT Pavilion and its array of activities similar to what was done with the Short Film Corner (today one of the Marché’s emblematic theme-based sections).

The last-minute confirmation of the participation of Netflix’s chief content officer, Ted Sarandos, created a tremendous buzz and gave the NEXT Pavilion unprecedented visibility both on site and in the pages of international publications.

For the first time, the NEXT Pavilion attracted as many film production and distribution professionals as technology vendors and interactive media creators.

Building moviegoer loyalty

In terms of building the clientele and its loyalty, the focus was placed on the alternatives developed by independent theatres such as Watershed in the United Kingdom and the US-based Drafthouse network as well as the Göteborg and Malmo Festivals in Scandinavia.

User experience, reduced Big Data, community engagement… The language used by this often discrete sector of the film industry (screening and curatorship-animation) is similar to the one generally used by publishers and brands.

This explains how recent strategies deployed to extend films’ exploitation cycles beyond their commercial lifespan are refocused on the moviegoer-client and the whole of their personal data linked to their passion for cinema: trailers viewed on the Internet, interest groups for certain films, pages viewed on sites such as IMDb, cinematographic comments and hashtags posted on social networks, VOD platform subscriptions, online store purchases, etc.

The aim is to provide the moviegoer-client with an in-theatre experience in keeping, to the highest extent possible, with their lifestyle, age and consumption patterns.

Virtual reality’s popularity is on the rise

Immersive technologies which recently gained in popularity following promotional initiatives launched during other festivals such as Sundance, SXSW and Tribeca ignited participants’ curiosity at the NEXT Pavilion. They could explore Swiss platforms like Sequenced (apelab Studio), a 360° animated series for mobile devices and virtual reality helmets in which the story unfolds differently with each viewing depending on the angles the user focuses on, CtrlMovie(an interactive storytelling platforms for tablets), IPTV and participatory film screenings… Not to forget MindMaze, an evolutionary virtual reality/augmented reality gaming system that uses neurotechnology to monitor and analyze gamers’ emotions.

Digital’s impact on creativity

But what about creativity? Can digital change how films are scripted and produced and lead to the development of new ways viewers interact with the content? One of the most enlightening presentations on this topic was given by producer Céline Sciamma, recently elected chair of the CNC’s New Media Commission.

Renowned mainly for her work as a filmmaker (TomboyBande de filles), Mrs. Sciamma has never worked in interactive media yet incarnates the creative and authoritative spirit put forward in all of the CNC’s support programs. She met the challenge of breaking down the barrier of media producers’ lack of technological savvy. She focused on the necessary cross-cutting nature of the creative teams as well as the danger surrounding the multiplication of available platforms that can negatively affects audience numbers (because everyone wants to be everywhere at once).

A few innovative French initiatives in that regard were underlined for the occasion. Noteworthy is the implementation by Canal+ of an ambitious new-generation “mobile soap opera” production service. These short films have been rethought for exclusive viewing on smartphones and tablets.

Call for a greater recognition of digital creation

PXN, the new French association that regroups 30 independent digital content producers, took advantage of the NEXT Pavilion to make its first public showing. Moreover, producers Arnaud Colinart (Agat Films/Ex Nihilo) and Pierre Cattan (Small Bang) expressed loud and clear their interest in defending this industry and having France’s financial institutions acknowledge its existence.

Born in the aftermath of the publication of the digital anthology titled Les nouveaux producteurs – La French Touch de la Webcréation by the Institut Français in 2014, PXN expressed at Cannes its intent to have digital artistic creations fully recognized. It advocates a review of the CNC’s support system, the adaptation of fiscal regulations to have them better account for the reality of this industry, a more equal sharing of the rights assigned to platforms as well as the opportunity to take part in the structuring of the digital content market along with broadcasters and technology providers.

PXN calls for the creation of a public digital service “with significant means to articulate the issues of cultural exception, technological innovation and creative funding, with the objective of rebuilding a durable social bond and powerful global outreach.”

The successive interventions of the CNC, Céline Sciamma and PXN testify to the extent of the problem when it comes to supporting and acknowledging digital art—whether created for film, the web or television—and point to the new generation of digital artists who are trying to find their place in the sun by taking part in the world’s greatest of all film festivals.

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Charles Stéphane Roy
Charles Stéphane Roy is a multiplatform producer and innovation lead at La maison de prod since 2013. Before that, he was the editor-in-chief of the daily Qui fait Quoi. He also carried out research and strategic analysis mandates for the Observatoire du documentaire du Québec and and Evolumedia Group. His projects, which incorporate filmtech and innovative business models, were selected at Cannes NEXT and the Cross Video Days and by the Storytek accelerator, in addition to earning the POV Hackathon Award and the HackXplor Liège TV5 Monde Award.


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