Biz bill of health

Report: French films in the pink

PARIS — France’s Centre National de la Cinematographie (CNC), which is virtually a French film ministry, gave a clean bill of health to the French cinema industry Wednesday, saying that optimism and investment is the order of the day.

CNC head Marc Tessier, presenting the organization’s annual report for 1997, noted that the number of French films being made is up, financing for Gallic pics is on the rise and banks are showing renewed interest in putting their money into movies.

The number of films produced last year with French coin invested jumped from 131 in 1996 to 158, of which 125 pics were initiated and majority financed by the French. The remaining 33 projects were co-productions with minority French financing.

Local investment in production was also on the rise, climbing from $388 million in 1996 to $588 million last year. Even when the $90 million “The Fifth Element” budget is discounted, Tessier noted that the increase was significant.

The Luc Besson sci-fi actioner is exceptional for the French in that the budget rivaled most Hollywood pics and far outdistanced the average cost of a Gallic project, which is currently pegged at around $4.6 million.

If the 1997 figures are to be taken as a true reflection of what is happening in France, then the tendency is for producers to move toward a handful of ambitiously priced projects and a wad of bargain-basement pics, with the middle ground becoming increasingly sparsely populated.

Per the CNC figures, 1997 saw 27 films costing over $6.6 million, accounting for 60% of investment in the 125 French-initiated pics last year.

Of those bigger budget pics already released, the Gaumont-financed “The Fifth Element” was a hit and another Gaumont-backed project, “The Corridors of Time: The Visitors 2,” is fast-tracking to box office success.

However, the $23 million “On Guard” disappointed and exhibs are nervous about the prospects of the Alain Delon and Jean-Paul Belmondo vehicle “Une Chance Sur Deux,” which cost $24 million.

What is clear is that France’s system of public financing for debut directors continues to turn up new talent.

Last year yielded 46 debut pics compared to 37 in 1996. In fact, first films accounted for around one third of total production.

The French have always considered that supporting the debutante filmmaker is the same as investing in a prototype of any industrial product and that there will be some fallout after that prototype is made.

CNC stats show that while the number of first films has increased from 22 in 1994 to the current level of 46, the number of second films coming from the same directors has slipped from 20 to 13.

One reason for this decline, according to Tessier’s team, is that first time directors are now shooting their second projects as telefilms and so are not included in the stats.

Tessier insisted that overall “there is an avalanche of projects arriving at the CNC and I hope that this continues.”

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