Bringing New Life to Arthouse Films: Interview with Cinema Guild’s Ryan Krivoshey

Putty Hill

I first met Ryan Krivoshey, Cinema Guild’s director of distribution, last year at MoMA’s monthlong retrospective for Jia Zhangke, whose film 24 City is carried by Cinema Guild (and also available on Fandor). A veteran of the New York film scene, Krivoshey’s career in film passed through such local mainstays as Film Forum, Icarus Films and Kim’s Video. As part of our two week spotlight of Cinema Guild’s films, I visited the company’s New York office and had lunch with Krivoshey. As we waited in the famously long line at the original Shake Shack to order our Shack Burgers, I learned about his efforts in putting Cinema Guild back on the arthouse distribution map.


Keyframe: How did you develop your taste and interests in film? Did you go to film school?

Ryan Krivoshey: I didn’t go to film school. In college I was an English major, and I took a couple of film courses in college. But it was really just going to movie theaters in New York, and certain films clicked for me, like Mike Leigh’s Naked. I wasn’t exposed to those kinds of films growing up. Also the films of Atom Egoyan. Both of these were a game-changers for me. And then when I worked at Kim’s Video, I’d buy film books, and I’d literally scan the index pages and see which films got the most pages of coverage, and I’d rent those videos. And as I watched the films I’d read the sections of those books about the films to educate myself.

Keyframe: In just the past few years, Cinema Guild has become an important label for indie and international films. How do you account for the company’s recent emergence?

RK: Up until I joined Cinema Guild in 2002, the company had never released a foreign film. There were a lot of films that I tried to get early on that went to other companies. Back then we had to practically beg for screeners. Without a reputation, it was very difficult. Our first acquisitions took forever. So it was just a matter of convincing them that we were the right company for the film.

But the turning point was three or four years ago, when we got films like The Order of Myths, Alexandra, and The Betrayal, which got an Oscar nomination. And we carried that momentum into the next year, when we released The Beaches of Agnes, 24 City and 35 Shots of Rum. That was the year when people started to notice the company, but it was the year before that we were able to hit the ground running and keep it going.


Keyframe: With other companies being more established, how were you able to persuade internationally acclaimed filmmakers like Agnes Varda, Claire Denis and Jia Zhangke to let you distribute their films?

RK: We try to be innovative in the way we release our films, but in certain respects, we’re not doing anything revolutionary. We just promise the best possible release for these films. Everything from the marketing material all the way to the final DVD packaging, with a great attention to detail throughout. We do things that should be standard but aren’t always, like paying royalties on time, clear accounting, responding to emails from the filmmaker promptly. Those are basic things that some distributors over the years have neglected, and it’s given American distributors in general a bad rap.

Keyframe: Does your ability to fulfill these items have to do with being a small label, with you being hands-on in so much of the day-to-day operations?

RK: To a degree, but it’s also what each person’s vision is for their company. It’s something that I’ve picked up in the companies I’ve worked for, like Film Forum and Icarus. It’s just a logical thing to do to be responsive to the filmmaker’s needs. Something that we’re really proud of with our catalog is that you’ll see an ongoing relationship with some filmmakers. Agnes Varda is an excellent example.  She’s highly involved in the distribution of each of her films, so we worked directly with her on The Beaches of Agnes.  She was very happy with what we did, so we went back and picked up Cinevardaphoto and Daguerrotypes. We have multiple titles from Christian Petzold and Manoel de Oliveira as well.


Keyframe: What has been especially rewarding for you? Is there a favorite film of yours in the catalog?

RK: I don’t have a favorite film, but I will say that when I was learning about films, a big filmmaker for me was Alexander Sokurov, whose every film I’ve loved. So it was especially rewarding to be able to distribute his film Alexandra.

Keyframe: What’s coming up for Cinema Guild this year?

RK: We’ve picked up a bunch of stuff recently and are looking at doing more theatrical releases. Coming up this year we have The Interrupters by Steve James (Hoop Dreams), and Natural Selection, which won Best Narrative Film at South by Southwest this year. Next year we’ll release Bela Tarr’s The Turin Horse, which won the Grand Prix at Berlin this year, and two films that competed this year at Cannes: Hong Sang-soo’s The Day He Arrives, and Nuri Bilge Ceylan’s Once Upon a Time in Anatolia, which won the Grand Prix.

Kevin B. Lee is editor of Keyframe, the guide to essential films on Fandor.

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