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Business is booming on VOD, streaming platforms in US, says The Illegal distributor Lise Romanoff

The chief executive officer of Visions Films, who has been involved in film distribution for 25 years, opened up to Cinestaan on a variety of subjects.

Keyur Seta

Director Danish Renzu’s The Illegal is about an Indian youngster Hassan (Suraj Sharma) who immigrates to the United States to learn filmmaking. But instead of having a smooth stay there, he is compelled to struggle and scrimp in order to make ends meet.

Plenty of immigrants in the US want to go home but can’t, says The Illegal director Danish Renzu

The film, which was released theatrically in the US on 6 December, was distributed by Vision Films Inc.

Lise Romanoff, the managing director and chief executive officer (CEO) of Visions Films, has been a part of the world of film distribution for 25 years. She opened up to Cinestaan on a variety of subjects such as distributing a film on a niche subject.

We understand things aren’t good in the US due to COVID-19.

Vision Films went “remote" a few years ago and therefore, other than staying as safe as we can on a personal level, business is booming in the world of VOD and TV, and surprisingly even the independent theatrical world. There are still some theatres that are open and need films, and since many of the studio releases are postponed, Vision Films as an independent distributor is getting the opportunity to fill scheduling holes!

The Illegal had a good screening at a festival last year and it was well-received. How was the response to the film in the US during its theatrical run?

The Illegal is a very special film. Everyone who sees it is left with a lot to think and talk about, from how hard it is for anyone to move to a new city, much less new country, and find a good job that they love to making new friends and being able to call a new place “home”. 

And then there is the political aspect, as to whether the system is set up for their success or failure. I hope this film is inspirational and gives the viewer some incentive that if they find themselves stuck in a rut, not to settle, not to give up on their dream!

The Illegal review: This story of immigrants in the US is filled with reality and hope

The Illegal shows that one does not necessarily lead a great life after immigrating to the US. What do you think about this aspect of the film?

This is an interesting question. I know that people immigrate here to look for opportunity and hope to “be their best self” but end up doing lesser, menial jobs just to survive. It’s very similar to American kids coming out of college. They are just not able to find the right job, end up taking the first one that presents itself, and then get stuck in a rut just to pay the bills instead of being able to find a career they are passionate about.

What were the challenges of distributing an unconventional film like The Illegal?

We love to distribute films that have a great social message, so this is not unusual for us, it is our passion! And of course, Suraj’s performance in this particular film is amazing and so real!

Vision Films has been in the independent distribution space for over 20 years and we have strong relationships with the various platforms and broadcasters who are truly looking forward to releasing the film in January. A high-quality film such as The Illegal doesn’t need to come from a big studio to have value or find success. 

What type of films does your firm Vision Films specialize in distributing?

We actually do best with family films and straight action films. I wouldn’t say we have set criteria. We work with many repeat companies and producers to release third-party films, timely documentaries, faith and family films, animation; almost every genre. When we have a great drama that rings true and touches the audience, it is very rewarding. Content that resonates with audiences, inspires new ideas, celebrates diversity, challenges our way of thinking, and also makes us happy, are ideal films for right now and moving forward into 2021.

Please tell us about your special interest in documentary films

We love documentary films! We specialize in pop culture and biographies of legendary figures, and also films celebrating human accomplishments such as One More Orbit, where passengers circumvent the global from pole to pole breaking a world record. We have had great success with an environmental film directed by Susan Kucera and featuring and produced with Jeff Bridges, and are currently releasing Hot Money, a film on the intertwined relationship between the economy and global warming featuring General Wesley Clark Sr and his son, Wes Clark, Jr. Docs are vitally important tools for education and entertainment and are in the zeitgeist at the moment. 

Iqbal Theba and Suraj Sharma in The Illegal

Vision Films is also releasing The Illegal on DVD in January. What is the demand for the format in the US?

DVD numbers certainly aren’t what they once were, but we do still see the great performance of certain genres, especially horror and action films; they still sell to the masses. Niche films have more success on VOD.

Movie theatres are slowly opening up in different parts of the world. What is the situation in America?

Theatres are only open in some geographic areas of the USA.  I think it will be another six months until we are fully open, and even then, only at 50% capacity.

The film business has been gravely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. How is your firm coping

Vision Films is very fortunate not to be dependent on theatrical releases, and business is booming on VOD and streaming TV platforms. We have been busier than ever in 2020 and continue to develop new partnerships with emerging platforms and with many up-and-coming producers.