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French film industry under the gun

Wild Bunch topper challenges local biz

Cracks are appearing in the once-august edifice of France’s film industry.

Gaul last year made more films (230), boasted more film investment (Euros1.1 billion: $1.4 billion) and notched up a higher local film market (37%) than any other major country in Europe. That, however, may not be enough.

Over the last months, industry unity seems to be breaking down.

Just like the U.S. industry, France is under the gun, pressured by vast technological change, piracy, film and TV production convergence, and tumbling international market revenues, most notably from the U.S.

Recent Gallic rumbles suggest that Europe’s premier film industry cannot agree even on the need for change, let alone its pace or how to implement it.

In the latest manifestation, Wild Bunch co-topper Vincent Maraval, one of the most powerful sales agents in Europe, delivered a blistering broadside against his own French industry.

His frustration centers on two incidents.

On April 15, at a Cannes board of administration before Thierry Fremaux’s Official Selection announcement, Olivier Assayas’ five-hour 33-minute “Carlos” was proposed for Cannes Competition. “Carlos” was — and still is — skedded to begin screening the day of its Cannes preem on French paybox Canal Plus, pic’s producer, as a three-part TV series. Following vociferous opposition from French trade bodies, notably France’s Blic assn., in a compromise solution announced four days later, “Carlos” was given an out-of-competition slot.

The French industry’s opposition to “Carlos”‘ competition berth is richly ironic, said Maraval. In general, borders between cinema and TV films broke down long ago, he argues.

The main source of finance for 80% of French movies is TV coin, Maraval said.

According to the exec, the net result of that arrangement is that France turns out what he deems “format films.”

“Broadcasters want movies which look like TV films,” he said. “Fifteen years ago, cinema stars were Gerard Depardieu and Deneuve. Now they’re Danny Boon or Alain Chabat, TV-created stars.”

For Maraval, “France’s cinema system finances super TV movies which as international distribtors we can’t export: They don’t conform to cinema market tastes.”

A second storm was triggered by Wild Bunch itself. On April 30, it announced it would preview Jean-Luc Godard’s “Socialism” on its FilmoTV cable VOD channel May 17-18, coinciding with the pic’s Cannes Un Certain Regard bow.

Unlike elsewhere in Europe, where release windows are established by industry practice, France’s are government-mandated, the VOD window four months after theatrical release.

As of Thursday, it was still not clear whether all exhibitors approached would be booking “Socialism,” though Paris arthouse chain MK2 had agreed to show it on a number of screens.

Proscribing day-and-dating on theatrical and VOD, France’s set-in-stone release window undescores the country’s “deeply conservative” industry, Maraval said.

But, confronted by daunting uncertainties, France’s film industry, the biggest in Europe, has a lot to lose.

In that, if not in so much else, France for once ressembles Hollywood.

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