Kino Lorber, propped up by decades of experience and a highly burnished brand, is forging its own path.
With a career stretching back 35 years, president and CEO Richard Lorber says he’s focused on the future of the now 10-year-old art house distributor he co-founded in 2009.
“We like to think of ourselves as on the cutting-edge but behind the blade. That is to say we’re engaging in the change processes very much but also not drinking the Kool Aid,” Lorber (pictured) says. “We’re part of the digital disruptions, in a sense, but we also recognize the value of a legacy business.”
That legacy started in 1981 with the distribution company Fox Lorber, then the DVD label Koch Lorber, then the distribution outfit Lorber HT Digital and its banner Lorber Films (“keeping the DNA in the name,” Lorber quips).
In December 2009, Lorber HT Digital merged with Kino International, a distributor helmed by the late Donald Krim, whom Lorber met in his freshman week at Columbia University. The deal brought both companies, as well as Lorber’s Alive Mind Cinema label, under a single roof.
“We developed it as partners. Unfortunately, he died two years later unexpectedly,” Lober says. “So, I took over the reigns solo.”
The New York-based company, then comprising of about a dozen employees and a library of 300 titles, has since flourished. Steadfast in its mission to bring to market the “best of the best” in world cinema, independent films and documentary classics, Kino Lorber has grown to nearly 30 employees and a collection of 3,000 titles.
“Business has never been tougher but it’s never been more interesting,” Lorber says. “And for a company like ours that’s doing well, it’s never been more fun because we have to live on our smarts and remain nimble.”
Kino Lorber releases films theatrically each year under its banners, which include Alive Mind Cinema, Kino Lorber Studio Classics and Kino Classics, and – true to its roots – distributes DVD and Blu-ray releases to the home entertainment market.
“In some ways, some companies are just fleeing the packaged media world and physical home video releases,” Lorber says. “We’re interested in expanding our market share in that segment, which we’ve been doing, and that still remains a growth business for us.”
The company also maintains a wide availability of its library to streamers like Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and Kanopy, and works closely with “preferred SVODs” such as Criterion and Film Metique.
“They’re happy to feed from our golden trough because we have such great content. And most of those are not exclusive deals,” Lorber says.
In September, Kino Lorber rolled out its own streamer: the TVOD platform Kino Now, which offers more than 600 new releases, classics and award-winning international films.
“There are a lot of segments of the audiences that we serve that are underserved by traditional VOD platforms,” Lorber says. “By matching the audiences we know and we care about and who care about our content with the right sort of content, we think we can create loyal, mini digital partnerships.”
Documentary forms one of the “crucial” segments served by Kino Lorber, representing up to 40% of its release schedule. Of the company’s seven Oscar nominated films in the last decade, three have been documentaries (5 Broken Cameras, Fire At Sea and Of Fathers and Sons).
“Docs continue to work for us because we can target audiences more efficiently with docs. They tend to self-select their constituencies,” Lorber says. “It reinforces their own preferences, it gives them a chance, in some ways, to vote for the issues they believe in with their movie ticket or their VOD buy and that’s going to continue.”
With 10 years in the books, Kino Lorber is plotting out the next few decades. Future-proofing the business, Lorber says, means not only zeroing in on opportunities to sustain its growth but strengthening its brand.
“The Kino Lorber brand means something,” Lorber says. “It’s like getting into a really good college for a lot of filmmakers.”
The distributor is “attuned to the future,” he adds, embracing change with a “thoughtful skepticism.”
“Knowing that we have to move forward with the times but that there are distortions in the way the times are perceived, both by the media and the pundits and the boosters on various sides of the equation. We try to maintain a balance even as we move with alacrity,” Lorber says.
“10 years have gone by really fast. It’s been a great ride.”
(Photo courtesy Kino Lorber/Julie Cunnah)