PARIS — French producer Humbert Balsan, chairman of the European Film Academy, was found dead in the offices of his production company Ognon Films in Paris on Thursday. He was 50.
Balsan, who produced over 60 films in his career, had carved out a niche for himself in France producing pics by Arab filmmakers.
Known for a close working relationship with helmer Youssef Chahine, for whom he produced “Adieu Bonaparte,” “The Other,” “The Destiny” and “Alexandria … New York,” among others, Balsan also co-produced a number of Merchant Ivory productions, including “Surviving Picasso,” “Jefferson in Paris” and “Quartet.”
His films won numerous prizes, including a Silver Lion at the 2003 Venice Film Festival for “Le Cerf-volant” by Randa Chahal Sabag, and the Jury Prize at Cannes in 2002 for Elia Suleiman’s “Divine Intervention.”
As news of his death spread, homages poured in from the Gallic film industry. French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres called Balsan “a producer of rare elegance and charm,” while Cannes fest prexy Gilles Jacob said the org “was stunned and pained by his death … as if by the death of a brother.”
Catherine Colonna, director of the Centre National de Cinema, hailed Balsan as “eclectic and demanding as a producer” and “attentive and warm” as a man.
Born in Arcachon, France, Balsan started his career as an actor in Robert Bresson’s “Lancelot of the Lake,” which won the critics’ Fipresci Prize at Cannes in 1974, and went on to work with helmers Jacques Rivette, Maurice Pialat and Pierre Granier-Deferre before turning his hand to producing.
He continued to play bit parts in films from time to time, most recently that of the lawyer Maitre Doisneau in “Le Divorce” in 2003.
Balsan was VP of the board of the Cinematheque Francaise and VP of Unifrance, Gaul’s film promotion org. Balsan’s death occurred almost two years to the day after former Unifrance prexy Daniel Toscan du Plantier collapsed and died of a heart attack at the Berlin Film Festival, which opened Thursday.
Balsan has four films in production: “Travaux,” by helmer Brigitte Rouan; “The Man From London,” directed by Bela Tarr; “Un ami parfait,” by Francis Girod; and Sandrine Veysset’s “Il sera une fois.”
Colonna promised that “the CNC will make sure that the works by Balsan, notably ‘The Man From London’ and ‘Un Ami Parfait,’ will be carried out.”