EyeSteelFilm wants your bums in seats

Local production company EyeSteelFilm has recently branched out into theatrical distribution. EyeSteel’s Damien Detcheberry talks to us about the mission and methods behind this quixotic quest.

The Act of Killing, coming soon to Mtl courtesy of EyeSteelFilm

Local production company EyeSteelFilm is known in Montreal for its documentary releases, acclaimed as much for their hard-hitting social issues as their high aesthetic and narrative quality, from SPIT: Squeegee Punks in Traffic through Inside Lara Roxx and the internationally successful films of Yung Chang (Up the Yangtze, China Heavyweight and The Fruit Hunters). In the last year, EyeSteel has also branched out into theatrical distribution, quietly establishing itself as a purveyor of top-quality docs and arthouse films, both local and international, in Montreal’s cinemas.

The man responsible for EyeSteel’s distribution arm is 32-year-old Damien Detcheberry. A native of France, he discovered Montreal while studying at Concordia and has been living here for a decade. He worked as a programmer at the Festival du Nouveau Cinéma for seven years; a year and a half ago, the EyeSteel producers contacted him with the idea of expanding into distribution.

Having looked on with frustration as many important arthouse films have been passed over for theatrical screening in Montreal over the past few years, I was curious if the EyeSteel team saw a gap in the current local distribution scene. “It would be presumptuous to say that we filled a gap,” Detcheberry answers carefully, “but given what I did at the festival in terms of programming, I saw an opportunity for certain types of movies that Quebec distributors weren’t really interested in, and for which I thought I could bring something new. It doesn’t mean that we do a better job. But we thought we might have some originality to bring to the distribution world in Quebec.”

In a cultural climate where conventional wisdom dictates that consumer habits are moving inexorably towards home viewing, starting up a theatrical distribution arm seems like a quixotic move. “Everybody tells me the same thing, that going into theatrical distribution now is going backwards, c’est aller à contre-courant,” says Detcheberry. “But over the years, working for the festivals, that’s the idea I wanted to defend: that we want the theatres to continue to live, and we want the audience to go to theatres, because that’s the place where the movies make the most of what they have to bring to people.

“So it’s also une idée militante, to try to fight for this, even though it’s true, it’s a very difficult situation. The life of movies, especially documentaries, in theatres is very difficult. But to me, that’s the only thing worth fighting for. I don’t want to be a distributor for VOD or Blu-rays. I’ve always loved movies in theatres, so if I release movies, I want it to be in theatres.”


Damien Detcheberry


Detcheberry astutely notes that EyeSteel has already worked hard to make theatrical screenings into events worth attending. “The whole idea is to bring back the event in the theatrical release,” he says. “It’s a necessity for the distributors to try to bring this back. If you release a Quebec or Canadian movie, to find ways to have the filmmaker present, to make the theatre experience unique compared to watching it on VOD or whatever other format. Given the work that EyeSteelFilm has done before, whether for Inside Lara Roxx or Up the Yangtze — going to communities or to specific groups of spectators — I think that’s the heart of what EyeSteelFilm does, to get the right people to start the word of mouth or to create events around the movies.”

Targeting the Quebec market, with the occasional pan-Canadian release in collaboration with distribution partners, EyeSteel released 10 films in 2012 and nine so far this year, including critically acclaimed arthouse hits like Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present and Leviathan as well as overlooked cult gems such as Quentin Dupieux’s Wrong. Scheduled releases coming soon include Abbas Kiarostami’s Like Someone In Love (watch this space for a review later this week), the film adaptation of Roméo Dallaire’s Fight Like Soldiers, Die Like Children (June 7), acclaimed doc The Act of Killing (July, release date still to be confirmed) and several more.

“So far it’s going well, because we have a very small structure,” Detcheberry says. “Because EyeSteelFilm is also a production and post-production company, we have access to making the material; we usually translate and subtitle the movies ourselves.

“We couldn’t be much bigger than we are, I guess. But over the first year, we haven’t lost money, which is a good omen for continuation. I wouldn’t say we are making a lot of money with this, but we are proud of the movies we have been able to release, and I think we are working well enough to give us the hope to be able to continue.” ■

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