Hard shoes to fill

Industryites ask who will replace Unifrance prexy

PARIS Gallic movie stars and industry folk were a family united in grief as they paid their last respects to Daniel Toscan du Plantier at the Madeleine Church Feb. 15.

Tributes to the Unifrance prexy came from the likes of culture minister Jean-Jacques Aillagon, thesps Isabelle Huppert and Gerard Depardieu, helmer Patrice Chereau, Gaumont chief Nicolas Seydoux.

But like all extended families in such situations, once the tears have dried thoughts inevitably turn to the thorny issue of succession.

Toscan du Plantier’s sudden death of a heart attack at the Berlin Film Festival Feb. 11 created a coveted vacancy at Unifrance — whose once-insignificant presidency became one of the highest-profile jobs in French cinema during his 15-year tenure.

He also presided and owned the company that organizes France’s Cesar Awards (Feb. 22), and founded, with the king of Morocco, the 2-year-old Marrakesh Film Festival.

Producer Alain Terzian, president of the Union des Producteurs des Films, Unifrance board member and a personal friend of Toscan du Plantier, lamented:

“Nobody gave so much to French cinema over the past 15 years. There can be no replacement, just an apres Daniel.”

But does that have to mean “Apres moi, le deluge?”

Unifrance last week announced that there would be no rush to nominate a new prexy.

The non-profit organization’s management committee will assume the presidency for an interim period which could last until June 2004, the end of Toscan du Plantier’s last two-year mandate — although some hope a new topper will be found in time for the Cannes Film Festival in May.

In the meantime Unifrance’s calendar of events remains unchanged, starting with a new fixture, the Renault French Film Tour, which launches in London March 5, and the New York Rendezvous, which kicks off March 7. Helmer Patrice Leconte has been asked to head the delegation to the U.K., while Jeanne Moreau will go to New York.

Pascal Rogard, board member and director of the Authors, Directors and Producers body ARP told Variety: “We need to take time over the choice of Toscan’s successor. It’s important that there isn’t a fight. People aren’t angels but we must keep things dignified.”

But there are already signs of rumbling discord among the French film industry’s various factions.

Some think Unifrance needs another charismatic, high-profile figure to represent French cinema on the international scene. The name of Pierre Lescure has been mentioned, and, when asked by Variety last week, the former Canal Plus topper didn’t rule the suggestion out.

“It’s an extremely interesting role,” Lescure said.

But under Unifrance’s present statutes, unchanged in its 53-year existence, Lescure or any number of other potential candidates wouldn’t be eligible. Only a member of Unifrance’s 30-strong college of producers can be appointed to the unpaid job.

And that’s how things must stay, says Terzian.

“There’s no question of changing the rules,” he says firmly. “It would be an insult to Daniel’s memory to appoint an outsider.”

Terzian also believes the presidency should revert to the honorary position it used to be before Toscan du Plantier’s 15-year stint in office — leaving Unifrance’s capable managing director Veronique Bouffard and her experienced team to carry on the good work.

“There won’t be another president like Daniel,” Terzian predicts. “In the future it will be a much more modest, honorary role.”

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