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The Dutch youth film in cinemas could be successful again with better cooperation

The Dutch youth film has been one of the trademarks of the Dutch film industry for almost two decades now. In the Netherlands itself, Dutch youth films still regularly feature in the top 10 best attended films. And they are also highly regarded around the world. The films are very regularly selected at leading international film festivals, win prizes and are sold to many countries.

But it has been put under considerable pressure over recent years due to changes in the market. To make it successful again, a joint effort is needed from all parties in the film sector. This is one of the conclusions of the ‘See and Be Seen” study into the distribution and screening of Dutch youth films by Peter Bosma and Esther Schmidt.

The market for the Dutch youth film
There are real concerns, as the attendance, the box-office and the share of the Dutch youth films in the Netherlands have all decreased considerably over recent years. The total attendance of Dutch youth films fell from 2.3 million in 2014 to just 0.9 million in 2018. The box-office dropped from €16.1 million in 2014 to €7.1 million in 2018, the share of Dutch youth films in comparison with all Dutch feature films reduced from 30% to 23% during this period and the number of Dutch youth films released per year dropped from 17 in 2014 to 9 in 2018.

The market is increasingly dominated by foreign distributors and exhibitor chains and it is primarily focused on achieving commercial targets. More and more international youth films are being released per year: the total amount of youth films released in The Netherlands (domestic and international) increased from 39 in 2011 to 48 in 2018. And the scale of releases (in terms of prints and campaigns) is also growing every year.

Both distributors and exhibitors indicate that competition of American family films and European youth feature films is an important factor in the decrease of the results of Dutch youth films. This results in a strong competition within exhibitors’ programming and within promotion. Next to the competition they indicate that there is a need for a larger and more diverse range of Dutch youth films with bigger marketing budgets.

Dutch youth films are suffering from reduced visibility, both in terms of promotion in the media and in theatres as in terms of programming in theatres (time slots and number of screenings). This is exacerbated by the poor spread of the films over the course of the year, with a high concentration in the autumn.

In addition to the uneven battle that Dutch films are fighting in the cinema due to substantially lower marketing budgets, it is also more difficult and a bigger risk for a distributor to step in if these films are not based on pre-existing ‘property’. Some of the distributors state that they are no longer in a position or prepared to do this.

Recommendations for parties in the chain
As the conditions for cinema distribution and screening of Dutch youth films have become more difficult across the board over recent years, the researchers provide recommendations for the different parties in the chain to allow them to work together on strategies and more intensive cooperation to reinforce the position of the Dutch youth film again:

  • Dutch budgets need to be increased, as marketing budgets for Dutch youth films are often insufficient to compete with commercial foreign films in terms of publicity. And alternative and innovative marketing is needed, such as early branding and optimizing the use of the (Dutch) intrinsic advantages in order to distinguish themselves from the international films.
  • Improve the release throughout the year of Dutch youth films to optimize the competition with international films but also with domestic titles. On average, more than half of all Dutch youth feature films are released between October and December, while there are few to none during the three summer months.
  • Make better use of the opportunities of film education as it can contribute to tapping into a new and young audience. Close cooperation between involved parties is key.
  • Increase the visibility of Dutch youth feature films, by making them available on multiple platforms, possibly at the same time, as viewing behaviours are changing and there is an explosive growth of digital platforms and titles.
  • Intensify the cooperation between distributors and exhibitors for the demand of high-quality, artistic youth films throughout the year. At film theatres in particular, there is a need for continuity throughout the year, not just in the holiday periods.

The study was partly funded by the Netherlands Film Fund. On the basis of this study, since 2019 the Fund has begun charting the box-office performance of the Dutch youth film in its annual Film Facts & Figures of the Netherlands.

Spearheads of the policy
Active stimulation of Dutch youth and family films and international co-productions for this target group forms a spearhead in the Fund’s policy. Even after the cuts in 2013, support from selective funding was retained for around 6 to 7 youth films per year.

A number of initiatives have been shown to be necessary and desirable over recent years. Cinema Junior, the project for original, high-quality Dutch youth films, has provided new impetus at the request of the sector, in cooperation with VPRO, NTR and CoBO. The pilot for youth documentaries, Dok Junior, was started in 2018/2019. This cooperation project with HUMAN, Cinekid and IDFA will be continued over the coming years. Since this year, an increased annual contribution of up to €40,000 will be available per film for distribution, not just to artistic youth films but also to popular youth films. The Fund has also launched a pilot in cooperation with film theatres for the purchase of high-quality foreign films for children by distributors.

The investments by the Fund in youth film mean that the interest in these has been awakened in countries like Belgium and Germany too; comparable measures are now being introduced there and they are seeking cooperation with the Netherlands. The Film Fund wants to discuss the results of this report within the Dutch sector and investigate which measures and agreements are required in addition to the current policy.

Click here to read the English summary, conclusions and recommendations.

Click here to read the Full report (in Dutch) See and be Seen (Zien & gezien worden), on the distribution and screening of Dutch youth films in the cinema (2011 - 2018).