Norwegian film distributor, Åge Hoffart, started his career more than 40 years ago when the only way to watch films was to hit the cinematheque. Hoffart is now visiting Bangladesh for the first time as a jury member at the 16th Dhaka International Film Festival. In an interview with Dhaka Tribune’s Showtime, he expressed his appreciation for the hospitality of Bangladeshi people and of the organizers of the festival. Showtime’s Sadia Khalid talked to Hoffart about his journey as a film distributor.
DT: How did you become involved with film distribution?
Hoffart: I started as a projectionist when I was 14 years old. It’s the “Cinema Paradiso” story. After a while, I started to study film science in Stockholm in Sweden... I learned a lot about film history, about films from all over the world. It was very cross-cultural. They had a special theme on Japanese films.
DT: How did you like Japanese films?
Hoffart: I loved it. I think that for learning about new cultures, seeing their films is the absolute best way... For us, Hollywood was just a minor part of the whole.
DT: How did you watch films back in the 70s when you were studying film science?
Hoffart: It was before the time of DVDs. You had to go to the cinematheque to watch films. I was there every night. Saw two films every night from film history, which I’ve only read about in books and suddenly, we could see them.
DT: When did you know that you wanted to work in this particular side of the film industry?
Hoffart: I came to Oslow (after graduation) and I didn’t know which part of the film business I wanted to be in. People from film schools from Paris, London - they were unemployed at least half of the time; (because) so few films were made. They often ended up doing other things.
DT: But you managed to stick to your passion.
Hoffart: I was working in film societies for a while for the Film Workers Association. I came in contact with distribution people and I understood that there’s a lot to be done. You buy a film, you release a film, you get it into theatres. The whole marketing of the film is within this.
DT: So, marketing is also a part of your job?
Hoffart: Yes, it is. If I went into directing or producing, I’d probably be frustrated after a while. But going into distribution was fantastic. I got to travel a lot and I had a background that no one else in that business had.
DT: What kind of movies do you usually distribute?
Hoffart: In the beginning, I distributed a lot of European art films. Then I moved to more American and European films. One of our biggest successes were Kevin Costner’s western “Dances with Wolves,” which at that time was seen by 1 million people in Norway in a population of 5 million.
DT: It was a brilliant film. Have you distributed other Hollywood films as well?
Hoffart: Yes. I’ve distributed a lot of Hollywood films. For the last 10 years, I’ve been working with Warner Brothers and MGM - the two latest “Harry Potter” films, “James Bond” (and so on).
DT: How do Hollywood films compete with Norwegian ones?
Hoffart: I’ve been working with over 100 Norwegian local films. It’s interesting to see if you can compete your local films with Hollywood films. Use the same method, as the Americans do. That’s my great advice.
DT: Do you distribute only in Norway?
Hoffart: Yes. I distribute only in Norway.
DT: Were there any unexpected hits or flops?
Hoffart: Sometimes you get big surprises. Like one of the films I distributed was a documentary about some old men singing in a choir. They were standing outside on the Northernmost part of Norway. We estimated this film will be seen by 20,000 people. But it ended up being seen by 550,000 people.
DT: What does a distributor’s job entail?
Hoffart: First you make a contract with the producers. Then you make a contract with the theatres and then you link it all together, release the film and market the film.
DT: How do you do the marketing part? You must’ve gone few extra miles to get those 550,000 people to watch that documentary?
Hoffart: I’ll tell you a secret. We had this choir of mostly 85 year olds at a film festival in Toronto. They were standing outside of a press screening. The press comes out after the screening and there are these old people standing outside singing one of the songs from the documentary. So, they stop and go “Ah.”
DT: So you got free publicity. Was it intentional though?
Hoffart: It was very much intentional.