Gallic event draws world cinema in search of coin

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When Mahamat-Saleh Haroun’s “A Screaming Man” — with more than half its budget financed by Gallic coin — became the the first film from Chad to screen in Cannes’ Official Selection in May, France’s vital role in backing arthouse cinema worldwide was also on display. In fact, more than half of this year’s Cannes competition lineup was backed by French funding.

“With about 50 co-production treaties and a well-oiled public funding system that provides tax rebates, TV pre-buys, regional coin and selective subsidies, France plays a decisive role in strengthening local production industries around the world,” says Thibaut Bracq, who runs co-production and development market Paris Project, which runs concurrently during the Paris Cinema Intl. Film Festival.

Roxane Arnold, distribution topper at Paris-based outfit Pyramide, concurs, pointing out that two of its films, Palme d’Or-winning pic “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives” (a U.K.-Thailand-France-Germany-Spain co-production) and Directors Fortnight screener “The Invisible Eye” (an Argentina-France-Spain co-production) received coin from Fond Sud Cinema, a selective subsidy backed by the CNC and the Foreign Affairs Minister.

Fond Sud Cinema supports films from developing countries in Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Eastern Europe and the Middle East. There’s also the CNC’s Support Fund for Foreign-Language Films, which backs films from established foreign filmmakers like Lars Von Trier, Manoel de Oliveira and Youssef Chahine.

France’s co-production sector has remained vibrant despite the global credit crunch thanks its government-funded system.

In 2009, Gaul co-produced 93 films (compared with 95 in 2008) with 34 countries, including 45 majority and 48 minority co-prods, according to the CNC. And that data doesn’t include all the French co-productions such as “Uncle Boonmee” or Gregg Araki’s “Kaboom,” which come under the CNC funding pact since neither Thailand nor the U.S. have co-production treaties with France.

Romania, Brazil, South Africa and China are the latest countries to sign co-production agreements. The CNC is also in the process of updating various treaties with Eastern European countries that were initially signed in the 1970s, explains a CNC spokesman. The idea is to lower the minimum of French investment required in minority co-productions from 30% to 20% and in some specific cases, down to 10%.

“France represents a key co-production partner even for films which are not eligible for all the public funding resources provided with the CNC agreement,” the spokesman notes. “We have Europe’s largest arthouse theater circuit, an important distribution market and a vast network of experienced sales companies.”

As more cash-strapped filmmakers look for ways to finance their films, co-production platforms have mushroomed all over Europe.

But what sets Paris Project apart, says Arizona Films producer Guillaume de Seille (“Crab Trap”), is its user-friendly scale, tight focus on world cinema and its Asian ties.

For the past two years, the Paris-based forum has teamed with the Korean Film Council (KOFIC) to host a co-production workshop focusing on French, European and South Korean pics.

“It’s not one of those giant film fairs flooded with too many people and projects of all kinds,” says de Seille, who has Tan Chui Mui’s “A Year Without Summer” screening at Paris Project. “It gathers between 50 to 100 potential partners — including key distributors who are members of Europa Distribution — and gives great visibility to a small lineup of projects and films in post-production.

“Paris Project is a great starting point to forge long-term collaborations.”

Charlotte Uzu, head of international development at Les Films d’Ici (“Waltz With Bashir”) concurs. Uzu met Argentinian filmmaker Victoria Galardi two years ago at Paris Project and has since then been involved as a co-producer on Galardi’s upcoming film “Cerro Bayo,” which will screen at the market.

Over at Pyramide, Arnold says she discovered Annemarie Jacir’s “The Salt of the Sea” thanks to Paris Project. The pic, which was brought to the maket in 2005, ended up being set as a co-prod between eight countries, and got picked up by Pyramide for international sales and distribution.

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