Cannes Marché: Abdalla on the Autlook for “more explosive” stories

Cannes Marché: Abdalla on the Autlook for “more explosive” stories

Rockfield – The Studio On The Farm (Photo by Andre Csillag/REX/Shutterstock)


“We have decided that we will be taking on more completed films,” CEO Salma Abdalla told Business Doc Europe. “We have also changed our line-up a little bit. We are looking for more explosive stories.”


The rationale is that without physical festivals, it is becoming harder and harder to build up buzz around films or to rely on the usual trusted support from “ambassadors like film critics and festival programmers.” 


An added upcoming challenge is that when cinemas do re-open, there will be huge competition for audiences among feature documentaries, many of which have had to be held back.


Documentaries therefore have to make an immediate impression. In the short term, expect Autlook to focus on faster paced titles which “can resonate in the digital world, films that are more noisy.”


The company has a typically varied and intriguing slate for the virtual Cannes Marché. Just before the market began, Autlook announced it had taken international sales rights (excluding the UK) for Hannah Berryman’s much touted music doc Rockfield – The Studio On The Farm


Abdalla believes Rockfield, originally due to premiere at SSXW, is just the type of film which can immediately make its mark. Featuring big name rock stars like Ozzy Osbourne, Robert Plant (Led Zeppelin), Liam Gallagher (Oasis), Dave Brock (Hawkwind) and Jim Kerr (Simple Minds), it’s colourful, funny and “easy to market,” as she puts it.


The film tells the story of brothers Kingsley and Charles Ward. Fifty years ago, when they were taking over the family dairy farm deep in the Welsh countryside, the Wards decided to build a music studio in the attic of the farmhouse. Bands – from Black Sabbath, Hawkwind and Queen, to Simple Minds, Iggy Pop and Robert Plant, later to Oasis, The Stone Roses, The Charlatans, Manic Street Preachers and Coldplay – all recorded at this now legendary facility. ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’, one of the most famous pop songs of all time, was partly recorded there.


During the virtual Cannes market, Autlook is also selling Virpi Suutari’s new film Aalto, on iconic Scandic designer couple Alvar and Aino Aalto, Jens Meurer’s An Impossible Project, Czech documentary hit Caught In The Net, about online predators, Sundance winner The Painter And The Thief (acquired for the US by Parasite distributor Neon), and multi-award winning For Sama. The company is also working again with renowned Austrian documentary maker Nikolaus Geyrhalter, who is making a new coronavirus-themed film. (This is yet to be announced formally).


Before the scourge of Covid, Autlook had exceptional success in late 2019 and early 2020 with The Painter And The Thiefand For Sama


The latter title had just been released in Japan and Germany in March, when the industry went into lockdown. This meant that its cinema run in these key territories was cut short. Nonetheless, with an Oscar nomination, glowing reviews and box office internationally of over $1.35 million, the film has been a substantial success. 


Autlook has managed to do business during the lockdown, striking “some exceptional deals” on some of its projects in production. Throughout the summer, Abdalla has been participating in all the online events, labs and festivals, from CPH:DOX to Sheffield and beyond. Even so, she points out “there is a massive lack of information [that] you get at the (physical) festivals…There is so much more you can discuss in person at a festival,” she suggests. “There is so much you are missing if you don’t meet people, and only have 20 minute slots on the phone.”


“I only understand now how effective these (physical) markets are,” the Autlook boss sighs, as she reflects on her experiences dealing with distributors and filmmakers via zoom during the lockdown. 


The company’s new-found emphasis on “noisier” films and on completed titles has been made in response to the current market conditions. It won’t necessarily be a long-term policy. “We are not 100% sure how the industry will adapt in the next year,” Abdalla ends.