If you’ve caught cinematic gems such as Luca Guadagnino’s supernatural flick Suspiria, French New Wave icon Agnes Varda’s documentary Faces Places, Lars von Trier’s latest psycho horror piece The House That Jack Built, you can give credit to Singapore’s smallest film distribution company, Anticipate Pictures. The person running the show is founder Vincent Quek, who decided to dive into the scene in 2016 with Anticipate Pictures, which specialises in international arthouse and indie films. Newer releases to look out for include South Korean drama flick House of Hummingbird and Chinese epic So Long, My Son, some of which will be screened at the soon-to-be-opened Oldham Theatre. All films brought in by Anticipate Pictures are exclusives.
But what does a film distributor do, really? Think of them as the in-between from the completion of a film and the eventual showcase of said film at a theatre or festival. They handle anything from the marketing and publicity of the work to where it’s being screened – an essential component in the long process of translating a filmmaker’s vision to when the audience finally gets to view it. It’s a behind-the-scenes role that doesn’t often get recognised, and as fans of the works Quek chooses to bring into the Singapore market, we speak to him on the nitty gritty behind being a film distributor.
What made you decide to start up Anticipate Pictures in the first place?
“I was frustrated with the lack of diversity in films in Singapore cinemas. I had come from living and studying in a major U.S. city and had the wealth of culture open at my doorstep. Coming back and living in Singapore for the next two years since my return had seen little change. There were some players like The Projector and SGIFF that do good work but I wanted to contribute more. I wanted to be the change and driver in this industry in terms of offering alternative content. I had some experience working in big distribution companies in the U.S. and I decided to take the plunge.”
What’s the process like from securing distributorship of a film until it gets screened in local cinemas?
“It’s basically sourcing at markets like the one I’m at now (Cannes Film Festival), based on what I already know about upcoming talents and current ones we are already tracking. Next, negotiating with the rights holders and then opening up discussions with Singapore exhibitors (cinemas) as to whether they’d like to show the movies at their venue, and film festivals to see if they’d like to take the films for a premiere. That is it in a nutshell.”
What’s a typical day like at Anticipate Pictures?
“I start my day checking and answering emails from the night before. The nature of our business means most new developments occur during European and Los Angeles working hours, and so I rigorously check what has transpired in the industry as well. In the afternoon if I am done with responding to urgent mails I watch a movie or two, usually films that I request to screen in consideration for potential acquisitions, and then in the evening I do a few more emails and plan my next day. I’m most productive in the evenings, to be honest, so most of my big picture thoughts happen in the evening.”
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How is the process of bringing in films for Anticipate different from those at mainstream distributors?
“Larger distributors have films that are supplied via their studio headquarters based in Los Angeles, so for example the Disney distributor here would get all the Pixar, Marvel films to distribute in cinemas, and don’t have the autonomy to buy films outside their slate. We cherry-pick our films directly from film festivals and release only about eight titles each year, thus ensuring tight curation and a very up-to-date slate, and we often show the films at the same time as the U.S. or UK theatrical releases, sometimes even slightly earlier.”
What’s on your list of criteria when choosing a film to bring in?
“Buzz from the critics and audiences at the festival where the film has world premiered. Talent involved in the film – meaning stars, either celebrities or acclaimed directors. Topicality of the content. Marketable subject matter. These are just a few of the reasons for why we acquire what we acquire.”
What’s your take on Singapore’s film industry currently? Is there adequate support from authorities and audiences?
“On a whole there has been a growth in appreciation for independent films thanks to places like The Projector, who are one of our exhibition partners, the Internet and higher standards of living that allows people here to self-actualise. But to be blunt about it, there is zero support from the government for a company like mine, because we don’t invest in local productions. Which government body would justify spending public money on a company that invests solely in distributing foreign films? My argument is if you don’t invest in cultural companies who are incorporated and run by locals, whom face immense challenges bringing world cinema into Singapore, then your local talent generating the content that you provide grants for will not be able to easily access what is considered to be a global standard of world cinema, thereby understanding the landscape of world cinema at the highest echelons, where our own works from Singapore can be situated.
In an alternate universe, I would have started Anticipate Pictures as a non-profit organisation. It feels a lot like that sometimes.”
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What’s been some of the biggest hurdles for you since starting the company?
“Shelf space for films. The cinemas in Singapore are run by so few people and the big three are fine running things on their own without the product of some pesky foreign film distributor. We recoup our investment through film festivals who program our films for a premiere, cultural organisations for special screenings; Internet platforms that license our films, and theatrical revenue from one or two independent cinemas. We are growing but not at the rate which I would like, which would require an injection of significant capital.”
What films can we expect from you guys in the upcoming months?
“In the summer we have a wickedly funny horror-comedy called In Fabric about a haunted dress set in an ’80s British department store which is just a hoot and I can personally guarantee there are things in it you’ve never seen before in your life. Then later in the year we have three films acquired from Berlin in February that we are excited to premiere: a touching South Korean film called House of Hummingbird that just won Best International Narrative Film at Tribeca Film Festival, and an epic Chinese film called So Long, My Son that has garnered 2 actor awards at the Berlinale. The third new title we have is Monos by Alejandro Landes, which is a Lord of the Flies-style Colombian thriller which I could barely breathe by the end because it was so exciting. We look for films that take our breath away, literally and figuratively.
At the point of this email interview it is end-April and I am preparing for Cannes (Film Festival) in May, which is our most important market. Films from Cannes would most likely premiere end-2019 and early 2020. Who knows what this year would bring? That is the beauty of my job – the film industry is a continually evolving landscape and it is always exciting to see what new films from established and unknown directors would bring.”
In FabricThis interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. All film stills courtesy of Anticipate Pictures.
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