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Gaul gets N. Korea pix

French company strikes deal with DPRK

PUSAN, S. Korea — Less than two weeks after North Korea allegedly tested a nuclear weapon and only four days after the United Nations imposed sanctions against the country, one French company has struck up a trade relationship with the pariah state.

French distributor Pretty Pictures agreed Wednesday to buy a package of four films headed by “Schoolgirl Diaries,” a comedy-drama about a self-absorbed teen who learns to respect her parents’ hard work and devotion. It’s directed by Jang In-hak from a screenplay by An Jun-bo.

Company also agreed to buy three library titles, including “The Flower Girl of Anshi,” a 1964 pic based on a famous anti-Japanese novel. Deal’s other two titles have yet to be determined.

Pretty president James Velaise inked the deal with Kim Chol Su of Korea Film Import & Export Co. (KOR Film).

“We believe this is a historic deal,” Velaise said. “It will be the first time in recent years that a North Korean movie will receive a commercial release, as opposed to a festival release.” His company bought rights in all French-speaking territories of Europe.

Theatrical release in France is currently skedded for mid-2007.

“I don’t think we’ll have problems attracting interest from theaters,” Velaise said. “A Cannes berth is very possible. The festival is very aware of this film.”

“Schoolgirl” reportedly has been seen by some 8 million people in North Korea, whose population is 25 million. Velaise saw the film in September at the biennial Pyongyang Film Festival.

The U.N. voted unanimously on Sunday to impose strict sanctions that include ship searches after describing North Korea’s apparent nuclear test as “a clear threat to international peace and security.”

Variety described the film as “a well-lensed and largely underplayed North Korean dramedy whose curiosity value could be turned into specialty Western sales by devoted distribs.” That was before the sanctions, which do not specifically address films or propaganda material.

“My biggest worry is that we might not be able to get hold of the right prints and advertising materials.” Velaise said.

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