A foreign-film fadeout
Many acclaimed non-English movies never make it to the big screen in the US.
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Those involved with bringing foreign films to audiences, and those who observe the situation such as Rosenbaum, list several factors that may explain the slowdown. Greg Laemmle of the 71-year-old family-run Laemmle Theatre chain – a longtime specialist exhibitor in foreign cinema – notes how popular American independent, British, and Australian films (not needing subtitles) have been crowding out non-English titles for well over a decade. "There's also the simple fact," he adds, "that you have more movies coming out, week after week, than ever before, and it becomes extremely tough for us to hold over a film that we love but that audiences aren't coming for."Skip to next paragraph
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Jon Gerrans, copresident of specialty distributor Strand Releasing (which has had a few successes of late with such films as Claude Miller's "A Secret"), wonders if the aging of the type of "art houses" that his company regularly does business with might be deterring the crowds. "The theater business is always on thin ice," Mr. Gerrans says, "and especially these kind of theaters may often lack the extra revenue to upgrade screens to the high standard audiences have been expecting. So they'd rather stay home."
Whatever the cause, don't blame it on the films. Factoring in the harsh truth that only a sliver of any year's crop of foreign-made work manages to be sold to American distributors, there's virtual consensus among all parties that the sheer quality of the few foreign-language films that make it to US big screens has never been better. Just this year, Italian cinema has been making a powerful statement with both Matteo Garrone's extraordinary Mafia epic, "Gomorrah," (released by IFC Films) and Paolo Sorrentino's boisterous and elegantly conceived political tale, "Il divo." ("Il divo" was released by tiny upstart Music Box Films, whose surprise French hit, "Tell No One," took an unexpected $6.1 million at the US box office in 2008.) From Magnolia Pictures' successful nurturing of Tomas Alfredson's startling Swedish vampire film "Let the Right One In" to Regent Releasing's promising new rollout of Kiyoshi Kurosawa's widely acclaimed "Tokyo Sonata," there are plenty of signs that audiences will go to see great films in any language.
But for every foreign hit, many more founder once they reach America's shores.