France

Glass half full with robust local product

RECENT PICKUPS
· The Kid Stays in the Picture (Studio Canal/Mars)
· Mr. and Mrs. Smith (SND)
· Shanghai Dreams (ARP)
· Sin City (Pan Europeene Edition)
· 16 Blocks (Metropolitan)
2004 STATS
Top film: Les Choristes (Pathe, 8.5 million admissions)
Top indie: same
Total B.O.: $1.5 billion
Releases: 560
Screens: 5,300

PARIS — After a bumper year in 2004, the French box office slumped in the first months of 2005 — but all isn’t glum for Gallic distribs.

While some indie pics were expected to do better, they did nonetheless comprise the majority of the top box office performers.

TFM, French web TF1’s distribution venture with Miramax, released hits such as Gallic comedies “Brice de Nice,” a $22-million-plus B.O. booster starring hot French comedian Jean Dujardin; “Iznogoud”; and “The Aviator.”

Canal Plus-owned Mars Distribution topped the 2 million-admission mark with “Million Dollar Baby.”

The strong perf of local pics is reflected in Gallic market share for the first quarter, 47.7% compared with 41.% in the same period last year, although overall admissions were down 11%.

In terms of international acquisitions, the exchange rate between the dollar and the euro has given Gallic distribs much greater purchasing power. However, many are wary about making pickups whose profitability depends more than ever on theatrical performance. These days, some 10-15 new releases a week scramble for available screens.

ARP Selection’s Michele Petin says, “It is getting worse and worse. The turnover of new films on screens each week is 30%. Most films don’t stand a chance.”

ARP’s upcoming releases include Wang Xiaoshuai’s Cannes competition pic “Shanghai Dreams.”

As new distribs arrive on the scene — international sales specialists Wild Bunch and Celluloid Dreams have recently ventured into the French theatrical biz — an even tighter squeeze is expected.

As for TV deals, Canal Plus has become a hard sell. Juliette Renaud, in charge of co-productions and TV sales for Wild Bunch, notes, “They already have plenty of films via their output deals and they just aren’t interested in arthouse films anymore.”

The launch of digital terrestrial TV in March might augur new opportunities in TV sales, but so far the new digital channels don’t have the budgets to swell distrib coffers by much. “We’re talking with them but we aren’t ready to hand over our best catalog films for small change,” says Petin.

DVD sales in France rose 11.7% (figure incorporates a drop in VHS sales), reflecting continued steep growth in player sales. Rentals fell 22%.

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