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Paris fest hones sharp focus

Sprocket opera finds room for best of nich pics

As eclectic as the French capital, the Paris Intl. Film Festival continues to balance out a purist world cinema competition lineup and a more mainstream selection of Gallic premieres.

“Paris Cinema is not about red carpets but about great programming,” says Palestinian film vet Elia Suleiman, who sits on the fest jury, along with Italian actress Elisa Sednaoui, French thesp Tom Novembre and Gallic writer Eric Reinhardt. “Without too much presumption they’ve introduced many interesting films.”

This year, Aude Hesbert, the festival’s general delegate, and her team sifted through more than 1,000 films to come up with the final eight features in competition, which includes Zhang Lu’s “Dooman River,” which received a Special Mention from Berlin’s Generation 14plus Youth Jury, and Benjamin Heisenberg’s “The Robber,” which unspooled at Berlin.

As a sign of the times, half of the films in competition have made their way around the festival circuit but still need a French distributor. These include two feature debuts: Romanian helmer Florin Serban’s “If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle,” which won the Alfred Bauer nod and Silver Berlin Bear at Berlin, and Thai filmmaker Anocha Suwichakornpong’s “Mundane History,” a Rotterdam winner. Two Japanese titles, Hitoshi Yazaki’s “Sweet Little Lies” and Ishii Yuya’s “Sawako Decides,” are also looking for French distribution.

Being scheduled between Cannes and Locarno has made it difficult for Paris Cinema to get world premieres in the competition section. But Hesbert says the fest has nevertheless succeeded in doubling its participation over the past two years and has gained recognition from people in the industry, including France’s top distributors.

This year, the fest will showcase many Cannes titles, including Palme d’Or winner “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” Jury Prize winner “A Screaming Man” and Grand Jury prize winner “Of Gods and Men.”

“We like working with Paris Cinema for artistic and commercial reasons,” explains Roxane Arnold, distribution topper at Pyramide, which will distribute “Uncle Boonmee” and “Screaming Man” in France, and will also have Rebecca Zlotowski’s Critics Week screener “Belle Epine” at the fest. “We like the fact that ticket sales are taken into account by the CNC (the national film org), which splits the gross between distributors and exhibitors.”

Paris Cinema is renewing its partnership with Walt Disney Studios France to host the Gallic premiere of “Toy Story 3” in S3D as part of a special “Toy Story Day,” featuring the first two installments in 3D.

“The festival has done a great job at creating an inventive marketing campaign for ‘Toy Story 3,’?” says Xavier Albert, marketing director at Walt Disney Studios France. “We think it’s a creative and cost-effective way to build up a big event around the film right before its theatrical release.”

The fest will also host some high-profile guests, including Jane Fonda, helmers M. Night Shyamalan and Koji Wakamatsu, as well as Tilda Swinton, who will attend the French premiere of “Amore,” and Isabelle Hupert, who will turn out for the French preem of “Copacabana.”

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