How to track down public performance rights for films?
August 20, 2009 2:29 PM   Subscribe

What happened to the US public performance rights for many Studio Ghibli (home of director Hayao Miyazaki) animated films? I'm trying to set up a film festival and no one seems to know who owns the rights.. is there any way to find out?

I've been trying to get a series of 4 films to show for a Japanese film series for about 3 months, and I'm at the bang-head-on-desk stage of things as I wonder why companies make it so difficult to find out how to legally screen their products. After giving up on a number of films with no US rights holder due to companies that are seemingly impossible to get a response from, I thought that it might be much easier to deal with US rights holders with clear policies instead.

So I turned to Swank Motion Pictures, distributor for Disney/Buena Vista Home Entertainment, who owned the US rights for several Studio Ghibli films. However, I went through their catalog and was surprised to see only 4 films listed, when there used to be many more. After talking to them on the phone, they told me that recently they had been excited to expand their animation offerings by several orders of magnitude, only to receive warning that the rights were no longer valid for a large percentage of films not long after, forcing them to pull many titles from their catalogs, including most of the Studio Ghibli films I wanted to show.

Thinking this was odd, I searched online (Google,, etc.) for a few hours trying to see if the US rights moved elsewhere instead.. no dice. Then I got a phone number for Walt Disney/Buena Vista's reception from a reference librarian, and the staffer said I'd have to talk to the legal department for information, and that phone transfer lead me to a message that the voice mail for the number was not valid and it hung up on me. Calling back hasn't worked so far..

I'm starting to wonder just what happened to the screening rights for all of these films (specifically "Whisper of the Heart" and "Porco Rosso"), as the DVDs are still for sale and I can't find a single reference anywhere to legal difficulties.

Anyone know what might have happened, or how to find out? My eternal gratitude if you know of some centralized database where one can find out who owns the rights (and how to contact them!) for films that ISN'T the Internet Movie Database..
posted by muscatlove to Media & Arts (5 answers total)
Contact the Motion Picture Licensing Corporation and see if their Umbrella License covers Studio Ghibli films.
posted by jedicus at 4:13 PM on August 20, 2009

The Bijou Theatre in Knoxville just had a showing of Princess Mononoke and Spirited Away. Maybe shoot them a friendly email?
posted by Benjy at 4:43 PM on August 20, 2009

The Pacific Film Archive played Porco Rosso last month, and maybe they'd know something. But they're a part of UC Berkeley, and there may be wholly different terms for their showing something from those applicable to your festival.
posted by Zed at 4:56 PM on August 20, 2009

Thank you, everyone! All of these suggestions are very helpful - I'm going to try contacting Berkeley to see how they got permission.
posted by muscatlove at 8:15 AM on August 21, 2009

Just wanted to leave a comment to say that I ended up getting a very helpful answer from a museum director today - he said that as the films' US rights are owned by Walt Disney/Buena Vista, they almost certainly fall under the "Disney vault" policy of pulling popular titles from the market for a few years to build up demand. Looks like I unfortunately just waited a few months longer than fate would decree to decide to show these films, as the rights only vanished within the last few months.
posted by muscatlove at 6:18 PM on September 15, 2009

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