France

Upheavals aplenty have marked the French distribution scene in recent months.

The controversial toppling of Jean Labadie from Bac by shareholder Millimages and the recent emergence of a new indie player, former StudioCanal theatrical topper Stephane Celerier’s Mars Distribution, are landmark events. The same period also has seen Wild Bunch and Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp receive influxes of cash, the former via a capital increase and the latter via a stock market flotation.

Meanwhile, Gaumont embarked on a new chapter in July, severing its ties with Sony Columbia to go it alone in theatrical distribution for the first time in more than a decade. And Pathe upped its U.K. topper Francois Ivernel to head production and distribution on both sides of the channel.

These indies, as well as Metropolitan and broadcaster subsids TFM and SND ensure that France remains a lively marketplace for bigger-budget film sales. An array of second-tier companies also are acquisitive, though Hollywood blockbusters and homegrown hits leave little room at the Gallic box office for indie imports to make their mark.

TFM
Toppers:
Patrick Binet, president, TF1 Intl.; Jean-Paul Rougier, head of distribution
B.O.: $87.1 million
Top pic: “La Vie en rose” ($42.7 million)
In brief: Big-budget mainstream fare. Deep-pocketed subsid of broadcaster TF1 has a distribution deal with the Weinstein Co. but also releases some smaller arthouse titles. Lineup includes Bertand Tavernier’s Tommy Lee Jones starrer “In the Electric Mist,” Brian De Palma’s “Redacted,” Gallic nature docu “Animals in Love” and Emmanuel Mouret’s low-key romantic comedy “Un baiser s’il vous plait.” Will release Woody Allen’s “Cassandra’s Dream” Oct 31.

Gaumont
Toppers:
Sidonie Dumas; Francois Clerc, head of distribution
B.O.: $12.7 million
Top pic: “Seeds of Death” ($7 million)
In brief: In recent years Gaumont has branched out from mainstream local comedies with other genres and more niche fare. It also is getting back into acquisitions. Co-produced Brit artist-turned-filmmaker Sean Ellis’s second pic, “The Broken,” and financed the gritty Paris suburbs-set “Remember Me.” Interested in taking French and international distribution on indie fare from around the globe.

Europacorp
Toppers:
Luc Besson, Pierre-Ange Le Pogam; Philippe Kaempf, distribution head
B.O.: $67.4 million
Top pic: “Arthur and the Invisibles” ($53.7 million, released Dec. 2006)
In brief: Releases mostly EuropaCorp productions, scoring a box office double whammy this year with “Arthur” and “Taxi 4.” Plans to pick up three to five bigger-budget indie films a year since its stock market flotation in July. Recent acquisitions include Michel Gondry’s “Be Kind Rewind,” German film “Four Minutes” and “August Rush.”

Wild Bunch
Toppers:
Vincent Grimond, Brahim Chioua, Vincent Maraval, Alain de la Mata; Jean-Philippe Tirel, head of distribution
B.O.: $55 million
Top pic: “The Price to Pay” ($11.4 million)
In brief: Hip indie fare, reflecting Wild Bunch’s international sales lineup, but also releases mainstream French films such as “Moliere” or Claude Chabrol’s “La Fille coupee en deux” via its relationships with Gallic producers Pan Europeene and Fidelite. Recent international pickups include Martin Scorsese’s “Shine a Light,” “The Other Boleyn Girl,” and the Weinstein Co.’s nature docu “The Meercats.”

StudioCanal
Topper:
Olivier Courson; Philippe Desandre, head of distribution
B.O.: $54.7 million
Top pic: “I Do” ($31 million)
In brief: A-list international auteur films, such as Wong Kar Wai’s “My Blueberry Nights,” which it financed. Also not averse to popular French fare such as Fabien Onteniente’s upcoming musical “Disco.” Upcoming releases include “Atonement” and Mathieu Kassovitz’s “Babylon A.D.”

Pathe
Toppers:
Jerome Seydoux, Jean-Claude Borde, Francois Ivernel
B.O.: $49.1 million
Top pic: “Hunting and Gathering” ($19.2 million)
In brief: High-end indie fare and an array of French pics from a stable of producing and directing talent including Claude Berri and Jacques Perrin, who is currently working on the big-budget nature docu “Ocean.” English-language auteurs associated with Pathe include Roman Polanski and Jean-Jacques Annaud, while other indie fare such as “Marie Antoinette” comes to Pathe via vet producer Paul Rassam.

Metropolitan Filmexport
Toppers:
Samuel and Victor Hadida
B.O.: $39.4 million
Top pic: “Fracture” ($9.2 million)
In brief: Almost entirely devoted to imported fare, Metropolitan Filmexport distributes New Line product in France, and co-produces the successful “Resident Evil” and “Saw” franchises, as well as acquiring other indie fare. Release schedule for the months ahead includes David Cronenberg’s “Eastern Promises” and Mike Newell’s “Love in the Time of Cholera.”

SND
Topper:
Thierry Desmichelle
B.O.: $35.4 million
Top pic: “Ghost Rider” ($9 million)
In brief: Distribution arm of French commercial broadcaster M6 buys a lot of U.S. indie fare, favoring male youth-oriented actioners that fit in with M6’s TV target audience. It became a shareholder in Summit Entertainment earlier this year, taking French distribution on all of the new company’s titles starting with “The Hulk,” directed by French helmer Louis Leterrier, and “Iron Man.”

Bac (Millimages)
Toppers:
Roch Lener, president; Michel Lieberman managing director; Nicolas Sharret, head of distribution
B.O.: $13.6 million
Top pic: “L’ile aux tresors” ($4.2 million)
In brief: Bac has notched up noteworthy successes with Lebanese comedy “Caramel” and Cannes Palme d’Or winner “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” but the company’s future direction remains to be seen in light of the forced departure of topper Jean Labadie recently. In the short term, the upcoming release schedule bears Labadie’s unmistakable stamp, with pics by Carlos Reygadas, Peter Greenaway and Arnaud Desplechin in the mix. The label, subsumed in the shake-up as a department of Millimages, will continue to distribute Millimages inhouse productions such as kids’ toon “Dragon Hunters.”

Mars Distribution
Toppers:
Stephane Celerier
B.O.: n/a
Top pic: n/a
In brief: Former StudioCanal distribution chief Celerier’s newly independent shingle Mars will release its first film, Valeria Bruni Tedeschi’s “Actresses,” on Dec. 26, with the intention of releasing 15-18 titles a year. Five other former StudioCanal titles are on Mars’ lineup, including Cedric Klapisch’s “Paris” and Emir Kusturica’s “Promise Me This.” Other Gallic titles include Fidelite’s “Le Petit Nicolas,” based on a famous French children’s hero, and environmental campaigner Nicholas Hulot’s “Titanic Syndrome.” Several pics on in the lineup are co-produced with Studio 37, France Telecom’s new film subsid.

Note: Box office for 2007 through Sept. 30

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