Phaedra Cinema

What is Phaedra Cinema?
We are an theatrical distributor of independent films—both arthouse films and multiplex fare.

Who is Phaedra?
Gregory Hatanaka, president & CEO; Roseann Cherenson, executive vice president; Taka Arai, Snr. VP co-productions and creative services; and Steven Slome, manager, theatrical sales.

Total number of employees:

How, when, and why did Phaedra come into being?
We started the company in late 1996 as a result of going to film festivals and seeing terrific films that weren’t getting distribution in the U.S.

Unofficial motto or driving philosophy:
Employment requirement: Must have fireman’s training—also known as the ability to put out “fires!”

What would people be most surprised to learn about Phaedra or its founders and/or key staff?
That president Gregory Hatanaka is currently making his acting and directorial debut with a feature currently in production.

How many works are in your collection?

Films and filmmakers you distribute:
The Terrorist, L’Ennui, Just A Little Harmless Sex, Love Etc., The Taxman, Fever Pitch, Portraits Chinois, Floating, Men Cry Bullets, Gonin, La Separation; and the cult classic Master of the Flying Guillotine.

What types of works do you distribute?
Right now we acquire only feature-length films in 35mm, but we do have a few 16mm films in our catalogue. We acquire films from all over the world—new films and classic re-issues.

What drives you to acquire the films you do?
Unfortunately, some business concerns always enter the picture, but the most important thing is that we must really have a passion for any film that we take on. We usually select films by “committee,” but if any one of us has a personal passion for a film, we will almost certainly acquire it.

Is Phaedra also involved in co-production or co-financing of works?
We are currently involved in our first two co-productions, and we’re very involved in helping raise the financing for those films. These films will be distributed by Phaedra, but at this point, as the films are still both in the preproduction and development phases, we can’t really tell you more about our distribution plans for them at this time. Ask us again later this year!

Is there such a thing as a “Phaedra” film?
Usually it is a little gem that was overlooked by the bigger indies, but our films have so many faces—French relationship dramas, an Indian psychological thriller, American romantic comedies, a kung fu film from the ‘70s, a 3-D animation, and so on. I don’t think we can really coin one type of film as a “Phaedra film.” We are very eclectic in our tastes.

You carry a few titles by noted Asian American independents. Is this a deliberate choice in the development of your collection or a particular business strategy?
It was very much a deliberate choice, as there were some wonderful Asian American indies out there, nearly all being overlooked by other distributors. We felt there was a strong niche market for these films that will only continue to grow and which we strongly support. Our biggest successes in this market so far are Yellow and Strawberry Fields.

Best known title in Phaedra’s collection:
The Indian film The Terrorist, or depending how much of a cult film aficionado you are, the 1970s kung fu epic Master of the Flying Guillotine.

What’s your basic approach to releasing a title?
Creative promotions and heavy booking.

Where do Phaedra titles generally show?
We book our films all over the country, from Hawaii and Alaska to Maine and Florida. We play both with arthouse chains and theaters such as Landmark and Laemmle and, in some cases, we also go the studio multiplex route, playing with multiplex chains such as AMC, United Artists, and Carmike.

Where do you find your titles and how should filmmakers approach you for consideration?
We attend many of the major festivals and markets including Sundance, AFM, Cannes, LAIFF, Toronto, MIFED, and IFFM in acquisition mode, but we do acquire many of our films from Los Angeles distributor screenings and from cassettes sent to our office. We are contacted regularly by phone, fax, and increasingly by email, from producers who have seen our web site. We really don’t get involved in finishing funds, so we rarely look at a work-in-progress unless the producers plan to finish the film themselves.

Range of production budgets of titles in your collection:
From “no budget” to $10 million.

Biggest change at Phaedra in recent years:
We have grown from a one-man operation releasing strictly specialty fare to a six-person company which is now acquiring and releasing more commercial (multiplex) titles.

Most important issue facing Phaedra today:
The studios are increasingly getting into the indie distribution field and producing in-house much more homogenized, name-driven, bigger budget fare. This makes it much harder for the truly indie distributor to compete for screens and to garner press attention for a film that doesn’t have a “name” cast and a multi-million dollar ad budget. Another major concern is the glut of indie films in the marketplace right now. Now that anyone with a DV camera and an iMac can make a film cheaply, the market is only going to get more glutted in the next few years. There are often as many as two or three distributor screenings a day now and as a small company, we just can’t possibly cover all those screenings of available films. But we have to try so that we don’t overlook that one special gem.

Where will Phaedra be 10 years from now?
Still supporting unique voices.

You knew you’d made it as a company when . . .
in our first year, we got an actual office with a dedicated fax line!
Best distribution experience you’ve had lately:
Our success with The Terrorist has been one of the best experiences a distributor can have—finding an overlooked film that we are incredibly passionate about and releasing it to great critical and exhibitor and public support. But as we are only just getting into the expansion of the release, it’s even better to know that the best is yet to come!

If you weren’t distributing films, what would you be doing?
Running a revival repertory theater like the New Beverly Cinema in Los Angeles.

Other distributors which you admire and why:
Miramax’s Harvey Weinstein for his incredible eye and marketing genius; New Yorker Films and Cowboy Booking for their incredible passion for each and every one of their films and filmmakers.

The best film you’ve seen lately was . . .
Nicolas Roeg’s Bad Timing.

The difference between Phaedra and other distributors of independent films is . . .
that we don’t just have one type or budget level of film we distribute.

If you could only give independent filmmakers one bit of advice, it would be to . . .
have a unique vision and something original to convey. And do not make a film for yourself. If it has no audience, it is little more than a really expensive paperweight.

Upcoming titles to watch for:
Sinbad: Beyond the Veil of Mists, the first motion capture 3-D animation, featuring voices by Brendan Fraser and Leonard Nimoy; Went to Coney Island on a Mission from God—Be Back by Five by Richard Schenkman, starring Jon Cryer, Ione Skye, and Frank Whaley; Too Tired to Die by Wonsuk Chin with Mira Sorvino; and On the Run by Bruno De Almeida with Michael Imperioli.

The future of independent film distribution in this country is one that . . .
will increasingly employ digital technologies until celluloid (sadly) becomes a museum oddity.

Famous last words:
“Let people laugh at what they want to laugh at.”
—John Cassavetes

About :

Lissa Gibbs was a contributing editor to The Independent and former Film Arts Foundation Fest director.