'America doesn't give a damn about Euro cinema'

PARIS — French producer Charles Gassot has a love-hate relationship with Hollywood.

“America doesn’t give a damn about European cinema,” he snorts, in protest of poor U.S. distribution of foreign-language Oscar nominee “The Taste of Others.” He even vowed to skip the March 26 Oscar ceremonies.

Yet Gassot is ramping up a host of English-language films, hoping to stamp a Hollywood pedigree on a number of projects, since last year teaming Telema with TF1, France’s No. 1 number one private web.

Gassot has to be feeling good about his chances for success. His first foray into English-language filmmaking, Patrice Chereau’s “Intimacy,” snagged three prizes at the Berlin Film Festival, including the Golden Bear.

His English-lingo slate includes Al Pacino starrer “Betsy and the Emperor,” to be directed by Chereau next year if the Hollywood strikes happen, or sooner if they don’t.Right now, Gassot is looking for an American director for a remake of “Martians Go Home” which he’s developing with the French film group UGC. (The movie was to have been directed by “All the Mornings of the World” helmer Alain Corneau, but the director recently pulled out of the project following the flop of his last pic “The Prince of the Pacific.”)

A third big-budget English-language project on Gassot’s slate is “The Yellow M,” by James Huth.

In his native France, Gassot has been churning out successful films for years. Previous hits include Etienne Chatiliez’s “Happiness Is in the Field” and “Life Is a Long Slow River.” Another Chatiliez film, “Tanguy,” about a 28-year-old man who lives at home with his parents, is due out soon.

But while he has always prided himself on his independence, rattling out scores of highly paid TV commercials to finance Telema’s movie development, Gassot wanted a bigger piece of the action. Almost exactly a year ago, France’s No. 1 private web, TF1, took a 49% stake in Telema.

Today, Telema has some 12 projects in development at a cost of $3 million and a permanent staff of 20, twice as many as this time last year. Gassot and TF1’s topper Patrick Le Lay meet every week to discuss not only Telema’s projects, but also TF1’s wider cinema strategy (the producer is TF1’s special adviser on film).

Gassot also values the partnership with TF1 for the international chops of the execs at TF1 Intl., headed by Didier Sapaut.

“I want to surround myself with experts,” Gassot says. “That is the way to succeed.” But Gassot says Telema isn’t tied to TF1’s apron strings.

As an example of the maneuverability Gassot has under the pact, earlier this year, he announced a seven-film French distribution deal with UGC, the country’s top exhibitor, which is 34% owned by Vivendi Universal, TF1’s biggest rival.

While Telema shot only three movies last year due to the vagaries of production cycles, 2001 is shaping up to be much busier, despite the possibility of Hollywood strikes.

Four films will shoot before the year is out. “Woman Trap,” by the cult artist and comic book author Enki Bilal, is a futuristic fantasy aimed at the teen market that will feature real actors on a 3D backdrop. Pic is skedded to begin shooting in May.

Three films are slated to begin lensing in September: The comedy “C’est Noel” written and directed jointly by Michel Munz and Gerard Bitton, the duo who penned the massive French hit “La Verite Si Je Mens” (Would I Lie to You?) and its equally successful sequel; the English language love story “The Legend of Tristan” from Goran Paskaljevic; and Laetitia Colombani’s first film, “Mon Amoureux,” described by Gassot as a ‘French “Virgin Suicides.’ “

But strikes or no strikes, Gassot doesn’t intend to leave his English-language projects on the shelf. As part of his effort to pitch “Martians Go Home” to Hollywood talent, he has prepared a costly teaser featuring the crudest, most insolent, little green men that computer animation has ever brought to life.

And he’s hoping that by giving them English decoders, the Martians can take him to Hollywood’s leaders — and make them give a damn.

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