French films flat

Pic biz more prolific, but auds not growing

PARIS — France’s cinema industry hasn’t been this prolific in years. But French audiences just aren’t buying what’s being offered.

Although 181 films were churned out last year, at an average cost of $3.8 million, France was unable to increase a feeble 30% share of the box office, the Centre National de la Cinematographie, (CNC) France’s ministry of film, revealed in its annual report Tuesday.

Over black coffee and croissants at the CNC’s Paris headquarters, director Jean-Pierre Hoss tried to put a positive spin on a lackluster year.

Some 23 French films took more than $2.8 million at the box office, twice as many as in 1998, even though there were fewer big-budget films.

More than half the movies produced were first or second films, showing that the industry remains receptive to new talent.

Looking to the future, one reason to be cheerful was the recent agreement between producers and the paybox Canal Plus, the French film industry’s cash cow that forked out almost a quarter of the total $677 million invested in production last year.

Studying the trends

But the underlying crisis of confidence in the French movie business is illustrated by the plethora of studies that have been commissioned recently.

While some believe there is simply a film glut, culture minister Catherine Trautmann is awaiting a report on how French movies might be distributed to better advantage.

Meanwhile, the CNC is probing ways of fostering better screenwriting, Hoss said Tuesday. Challenging the traditions of auteur-driven French cinema, in which films are usually written and directed by the same person with scant attention to what the pubic might want to see, the CNC has asked producer Charles Gassot to take soundings from distributors, cinema-owners, exporters and “people who are confronted with what is missing.”

The number of international co-productions was down to 66 from 78 in 1998, due principally to the CNC’s tougher criteria for co-production financing.

Spain and Belgium were France’s biggest co-production partners, with 15 and 11 films, respectively, followed by Italy, Canada, the U.K., Portugal and Germany.

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