French firms look to bigger films

Focus on major fest credentials, lower risk

Despite a strong showing at Cannes by France’s mini-majors, those same shingles and Gaul’s big indies are forging strategies as the international distribution market constricts.

Indeed, as sales for smaller indie films shrink amid the sector’s increasing woes, distribs and sales companies are becoming more demanding.

“On one hand, we’ll focus on bigger, quality projects with higher market value after careful market evaluation and selection,” says Celluloid Dreams topper Hengameh Panahi. “On the other hand, we’ll stop paying minimum guarantees on smaller and riskier films because we’ve had too many bad experiences where the films did not quite deliver.”

Yet, she adds, “We’ll continue to acquire some indie films on completion.”

Celluloid Dreams’ latest pickup, Samuel Maoz’s semiautobiographical “Lebanon,” follows four Israeli soldiers at the outset of the 1982 invasion. Pic competes at Venice and also plays Toronto.

At Toronto, shingle will present five films, including Bruce Beresford’s “Mao’s Last Dancer” and Margarethe von Trotta’s “Vision” as well as Jacques Audiard’s Cannes Jury Prize winner “A Prophet,” which Celluloid Dreams co-financed.

Like other top art-pic purveyors — Roissy, Bac Films, Wide Management, MK2 — Les Films du Losange has been gravitating toward movies likely to scoop top prizes at festivals.

“More than ever, buyers are looking for films that have a festival label,” says Agathe Valentin, Les Films du Losange international sales topper. “It gives films more visibility and helps buyers envision the marketing strategy.”

Losange has three Toronto pics, including Palme d’Or winner “The White Ribbon” and Mia Hansen-Love’s “The Father of My Children.” Shingle has just picked up Jacques Rivette’s “Around a Small Mountain” and Otar Iosseliani’s untitled new film, which is shooting.

Multitasking — that is, being a distributor and a sales company — is another way to ride out the storm, per Camille Neel, Bac Films’ international sales director.

“The fact we distribute films in France gives us a strong sales argument,” Neel explains. “Buyers know that we’ve taken risks too and we’ll spend money to release most of the films we sell.”

At the Toronto film market, Bac Films will present stop-motion film “The Sandman and the Lost Sand of Dream//s,” directed by Jesper Moller.

But as Nicolas Brigaud-Robert, co-founder of Films Distribution, notes, “Toronto will be an acid test for market appetite.”

Rodolphe Buet, StudioCanal exec VP of international distribution and business development, shares similar concerns and anticipates a dearth of films with commercial appeal.

“The recession has greatly reduced the volume and availability of films with B.O. potential in the market,” Buet says. “Many films end up stuck in development, and productions are limited.

“At Toronto I’m expecting to see very few films in the $20 million to $50 million budget range.”

To fill the pipeline with films, local distribs and sales companies, including Celluloid Dreams, have been pumping up inhouse production.

StudioCanal is now diving deep into the production of high-profile international pics.

Its first fully financed international film, Julianne Moore starrer “Chloe,” helmed by Atom Egoyan, will world preem at Toronto and open San Sebastian.

The shingle also is in production on Rowan Joffe-helmed “Brighton Rock,” an adaptation of the Graham Greene novel with Sam Riley and Helen Mirren, at its U.K.-based company Optimum Releasing .

At Cannes, StudioCanal chairman Olivier Courson also announced it’s teaming with Neal Moritz’s L.A.-based Original Films on a “half-dozen or so projects,” including a “Cliffhanger” reboot. It already has an “Escape From New York” remake set up at Warner Bros./New Line.

Even smaller sales and distrib outfits, like Paris-based Pyramide Distribution, are now going after films with international reach.

“Our survival strategy has been to (be open) to films in foreign languages and push French producers to co-produce with Spain, Germany and (others),” explains Pyramide prexy Eric Lagesse. “Today, half of our lineup is made up of foreign-language films.”

Shingle has five pics screening at Toronto, including Egyptian film “Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story,” helmed by Yousry Nasrallah, and Manoel de Oliveira’s “Eccentricities of a Blond-Haired Girl.”

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