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French sales co. launches art subsidiary

Films Distribution creates Boutique to nurture pics

As the Cannes Film Fest kicks off, sales companies are grappling with the increasing stratification in the market between pricey specialty films with name talent and smaller, traditional art pics.

Films Distribution, one of France’s best-known sales companies, has responded by launching offshoot Films Boutique to give these smaller pics the special handling they require in a tight climate for art films.

Former Films Distribution exec Jean-Christophe Simon is heading up the subsid, which is based in Berlin. The location will help the company focus on high-profile art titles especially from Northern and Eastern Europe. While the parent org is handling multiple Cannes pics, such as competition entry “The Frontier of Dawn,” three Films Boutique pick-ups will also play in the fest.

“God’s Offices,” Claire Simon’s abortion mockumentary, screens in Directors’ Fortnight. So does Francesco Munzi’s “The Rest of the Night,” about Italian immigration phobia.

In Un Certain Regard, the fictionalized doc “I Want to See,” from Lebanon’s Khalil Joreige and Joana Hadjithomas, features Catherine Deneuve touring Lebanon. The visuals — Deneuve, bombed out cityscapes — are near surreal.

“The first thing producers ask sales agents is how many films they’re splitting their time on; second, how much they charge back to the movies,” says Films Distribution partner Nicolas Brigaud-Robert.

According to helmer Simon, Film Boutique is “treating movies as works of art and concentrating on a limited number of titles.”

The parent company is best known Stateside for foreign-language Oscar noms two years running with “Merry Christmas” and “Days of Glory.”

The $24 million Audrey Tautou starrer “Coco Before Chanel,” which Films Distribution financed and its Berlin hit “The Lemon Tree” underscore how the art pic market increasingly revolves around bigger films. Smaller movies require special attention.

Unlike France’s other major sales companies — Pathe, Wild Bunch, StudioCanal — Films Distribution isn’t interested in expanding into theatrical distribution, but rather into talent.

“If there’s a model for us, it’s not Polygram, it’s Endeavor,” says Brigaud-Robert.

Created by Brigaud-Robert and Francois Yon in 1997, three years ago Film Distribution launched Film Talents, a director-writer agency, with more than 150 clients and tapped Sebastien Beffa to handle film financing. Last year, it created actors’ agency Aura.

Film Talents is involved in some big upcoming French movies, such as “Ricky,” repping helmer Francois Ozon, and “Mesrine,” handling its scribe, Abdel Raouf Dafri. Beffa also structured “Chanel” financing.

“We have a knowledge of markets, of financing structures, an expertise in reading scripts the way they’re read by TV stations or distributors abroad,” says Brigaud-Robert.

Agency business is fueled by France’s production levels, which are the highest in Europe; French broadcasters pay handsomely for select films.

“But, to grow, we have to maintain grassroots,” Brigaud-Robert says.

So Films Distribution’s sister companies will continue to do what France arguably does best — caring for small auteurs worldwide, in the name of art — and getting coin back to producers.

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