Americans love movies—anything from thrillers to romantic comedies. But when it comes to foreign movies, Americans are usually more reserved.
There are hundreds of movies produced every year outside of the U.S., but most of them go unnoticed by the American audience. Three major obstacles contribute to that fact: lack of advertising, general disapproval toward subtitles and different expectations from the movie lovers who grew up watching Hollywood movies.
Kenton Nicholls, a business major student at BYU, went to the BYU International Cinema a few weeks ago for the first time in several years. His friend recommended the movie to him.
“I don’t watch many foreign movies,” Nicholls said. “I went to watch ‘Kolya’ in the BYU International Cinema, and I really liked it. But otherwise I don’t hear a lot about them, and it’s hard to know which ones are good or bad.”
Distribution of foreign movies can be a risky business. It requires marketing efforts without being sure there will be a return. According to Film Festival Today, a website that specializes in the business of film and entertainment, the U.S. audience for foreign movies has been declining for many years.
Bryan Pearson, a transfer student from BYU-Hawaii, doesn’t know many foreign movies.
“The biggest problem, I think, is that foreign films aren’t advertised like American ones,” Pearson said. “People don’t realize that other countries have many of their own films, and many of them are good too.”
Paul Dergarabedian is a president of the box office division of Hollywood.com. Subtitles are another barrier between the Americans and the foreign movies, he said.
“In order to make films palatable to an American audience, they have to be in English,” Dergarabedian said in the magazine “Foreign Policy.” “That’s why you see American versions of films like ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.’ The Scandinavian version was perfectly good, but nobody saw it in the U.S.”
Jake Tall, a BYU student studying business, is among those who think subtitles take away from the enjoyment of a movie.
“I don’t like subtitles,” Tall said. “And if a movie is dubbed, I feel like a lot of times the translation isn’t good and that I’m not getting the actual movie.”
Another reason why foreign films are not popular here is Hollywood’s ubiquitous presence. Often foreign movies offer a whole different experience, and viewers that watch movies for entertainment purposes don’t know what to expect.
“Last year I went to the Czech movie festival,” Tall said. “I watched two Czech movies, and they were just weird. I’m still not sure what they were about.”
Even though foreign movies don’t enjoy the same popularity in the United States as the American movies, there are many masterpieces among them.
BYU International Cinema director Steven Riep said there are many online resources that have reviews of foreign movies in addition to print publications such as The New York Times.
“On-demand programs like Netflix have a lot of foreign films that you can download or order through the mail. You can also check YouTube clips to see if you like a movie or not and then try to order it. And the Salt Lake Film Society that runs the Broadway theater has quite a few foreign movies.”
Riep thinks the key is to be open to the foreign movies. For those who don’t like subtitles, Riep recommends not to read everything.
“If the subtitles are done well, pacing shouldn’t be bad. Look at the whole frame and you will find that as time goes by you stop concentrating on just words.”
Riep says that reading subtitles isn’t hard; it’s just that people don’t do it in the U.S.
“Something that is different from what you are used to requires some effort,” Riep said. “It’s not a hard skill to learn.”