Cannes vet segues to CNC in Paris

PARIS — Next year, the Cannes Film Festival’s red carpet will be missing a face that has become familiar to gala attendees these past five years.

Veronique Cayla recently ankled as the fest’s managing director, segueing into the politically powerful top job at France’s Centre National de la Cinematographie. Her arts administration background and excellent connections — she’s a friend of President Jacques Chirac — made her a natural candidate for the job.

Housed in a mansion in Paris’ well-off 16th district, the CNC is richer and wields more clout than several other countries’ film councils put together, regulating the industry and controlling an annual budget of more than E500 million ($610 million).

Along with the film and TV production industries, Unifrance and the Cannes Film Festival are among orgs that depend on it for funding.

In her high-ceilinged new office, Cayla perches on a red leather chaise lounge and muses on the CNC’s uniqueness.

“There’s no equivalent in America,” she says. “When we have dealings with the U.S., they are with the MPAA, but that is a body representing the interests of the Hollywood majors, not American cinema. Nor does America have a Culture Minister. We don’t always know whom we should be talking to.”

Surely she is going to miss the glitz of Cannes, and hobnobbing with the stars?

Cayla laughs.

“I will miss the excitement, but that lasts for 12 days a year; it’s not daily life. The rest of the time you are in an office,” she says.

As the fest’s administrative topper, it was Cayla’s role to manage the festival, while artistic director Thierry Fremaux and president Gilles Jacob focused on the films. But she also carved out another role for herself, initiating public-friendly events such as the screenings on the beach and movie music along the seafront.

Running the CNC won’t afford such creative opportunities, but Cayla will have to think out of the box as she tackles the many issues the org has to deal with — while taking into account Gallic red tape and vociferous industry lobbies with often conflicting agendas.

Top of Cayla’s must-do list is resolving “l’affaire Jeunet.” For several months now, industry groups have huddled in an attempt to thrash out new regs that will open France’s funding system to non-European companies. The move follows the brouhaha in the industry engendered by Jean Pierre Jeunet’s “A very Long Engagement,” one of the most ambitious French films of the year, ruled ineligible for aid because it was financed by a company owned by Warner Bros France employees.

Although the Gallic majors have strongly opposed it, many in Gaul believe that opening the system will boost French production and create jobs in France’s underemployed production services sector.

However outsiders who imagine Gaul is about to open a major breach in its notoriously watertight system should probably think again.

In coming weeks Cayla will take delivery of a report into how and when the change should be made. The regs will probably ensure that money is available only for French lingo pics shot in France — to avoid coin being siphoned off for other projects.

Cayla tells Variety: “We want this change to be positive for everybody. The idea is to enable French cinema to be better financed and better distributed throughout the world. It seems obvious that if a French film is financed by an American company, that probably increases its chances of getting a bigger release in the U.S.”

However the basis of the French funding system must not be undermined, Cayla stresses: “One of the best indicators of its success is that we’ve a market share of around 40%, whereas most or our neighbors in Europe can’t manage half that amount.”

“France used to be isolated but more and more countries are coming to recognize that cinema has a real cultural mission,” says Cayla.

While France continues to square up against Hollywood at the local box office — and on the international stage via a UNESCO convention that would make protection of cultural diversity, including film, an article of international law — Cayla answers affirmatively when asked whether there can be common ground between the two rivals.

“I think the shared challenge of dealing with the technological revolution is far more important than the confrontations we can have,” Cayla says.

“We all have an interest in successfully tackling piracy, and working out how technology is going to affect matters, such as the way films are distributed.”

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