Showcasing a medley of French movies and unspooling at Paris’ august Grand Hotel and Place de l’Opera Gaumont theaters, no national film showcase quite matches Unifrance’s Paris Rendez-Vous.
But France’s challenges are no different than those of any other exporting territory. Television stations over much of the world are downsizing film acquisition budgets, DVD markets are declining and VOD hasn’t yet taken up much of the slack.
The good news is that sales are back after an 18-month slump from fall 2008. Japan, for instance, is buying once more, says Backup Films partner Joel Thibout.
But though sales volume has returned to roughly pre-crisis levels, prices are down.
“On commercial movies, we need to be extra careful about the theatrical potential of films we sell,” SND director of international sales and acquisitions Lionel Uzan says. “In today’s marketplace, the volume of ‘real’ theatrical movies is diminishing.”
So the mood of the 13th Paris Rendez-Vous with French Cinema, running Jan. 12-17, will be sober. “In this market, buyers look for French films with a high-profile director, a concept and a cast,” says Gaumont international sales head Cecile Gaget. “Films that pre-sell usually have at least two of these three elements.”
In general, however, sales agents offer few one-fit-serves-all prescriptions for a still-tough post-crisis market. “It’s difficult to have a global response. Solutions vary, depending on the nature of a film and its audience,” says Uzan.
France remains a prime candidate to fill Hollywood studios’ now depleted distribution lineups.
“Today there are less adult independent movies in the U.S., and obviously there is a market in Europe for making adult independent movies with strong casts and fine directors,” says Said Bensaid, founder of SBS,which is producing Roman Polanski’s “God of Carnage.”
The question is how to deliver quality movies on reasonable budgets.
“Every year we’re increasing our capacity to deliver as good movies as possible in a $30 million-40 million budget range,” says EuropaCorp partner Pierre-Ange Le Pogam.
There’s still an aud for prestige or solid art fare. Recent pickups by London’s Artificial Eye include “Of Gods and Men,” “Love Like Poison” and “Certified Copy.” “Most are auteur-driven… some have traditional subjects but treated in a fresh and unusual way,” says AE’s Jonathon Perchal.
For Thibout, a main change is that classic quality but low-concept auteur-only films aren’t selling as well as pre-slump. In contrast, films bringing something to the table other than an auteur — high-concept movies from auteurs with a sense of broad genre — can click overseas, he argues.
“Attach ‘auteur’ directors to commercial fare to have distinctive and original movies,” recommends Uzan. Indeed, auteur films may be one way to help solve one of French cinema’s biggest challenges overseas: its aging auds.
In one upbeat sign, for Films Distribution’s Nicolas Brigaud-Robert, a new generation of actors — Charlotte Gainsbourg, Vanessa Paradis, Audrey Tautou, Romain Duris, Tahar Rahim — suddenly has marquee value abroad.
“There’s been a wave of French genre films (that have) the potential to attract the 15-25 year-olds,” Gaget says.
She cites action thrillers like Fred Cavaye’s “Point Blank” or big-cast romantic comedies.
Many of Gaul’s breakthrough talents now explore genre or adapt comic books. Potential Rendez-Vous highlights include Wild Bunch’s espionage thriller “The Burma Conspiracy” and Pathe’s screwball comedy “Nothing to Declare,” Dany Boon’s follow-up to “Welcome to the Sticks.”
Laurent Baudens, Didar Domehri & Gael Nouaille, producers, Full House
Created by ex-Films Distribution sales head Domehri, plus Wild Bunch execs Nouaille and Baudens, Full House counts on international knowledge, plus sales-agent and talent relationships few rivals match. It shows. House’s first production, multi-part portmanteau pics “7 Days in Havana,” taps helmers Benicio del Toro, Pablo Trapero, Juan Carlos Tabio, Laurent Cantet, Elia Suleiman, Gaspar Noe and Julio Medem. An eclectic first slate ranges from Cuba to Colombia to China to drama, omnibus features and genre. That’s just for starters.
Virginie Despentes, writer/director
Banned in France, 2000’s “Baise-moi,” a femme punk revenge rampage pic, became a cause celebre. Despentes is now taken more seriously as an artist, winning the 2010 Renaudot Prize for novel “Apocalypse Bebe.” The big question is whether, thanks to upcoming “Bye Bye Blondie,” a rock-scored rom-com with Beatrice Dalle and Emmanuelle Beart as ex-lovers, Despentes can finally break through as a filmmaker. Wild Bunch’s Vincent Maraval calls it “highly original.”
Eric Lartigau, writer/director
A Canal Plus comedy bigshot — directing “Guignol” sketches, sitcom “H,” Kad Merad and Alain Chabat movies — Lartigau finally presses all the right buttons, earning critical raves and a $15.6 million B.O. with drama “The Big Picture,” in which Romain Duris accidently kills a man, steals his identity and pursues his shutterbug calling. Superbly off-kilter and genre-blending, “Picture” poses big questions but gives no easy answers, making it France’s crossover champ of late 2010.
Katell Quillevere, writer/director
The mental tie-ups of a 14-year-old girl — her anguished discovery of sexuality, her faltering religious faith — are chronicled in Quillevere’s gentle but precise debut, “Love Like Poison,” with telling observation, memorable thesping and, unusually for a debut, a delicious sense of measure and control. Unsurprisingly, “Poison” won the 2010 Jean Vigo award and was nominated for a first film Louis Delluc award.
Pascal Sid & Julien Lacombe, writers/directors
Even before Sid and Lacombe’s debut, 2D/3D chiller and Laetitia Casta starrer “Behind the Walls,” hits French screens, the duo became attached for MK2’s “Cameron,” which sends contempo French Legionnaires back to 1943 France to battle German troops. Heavily researched, very realist, more immersive than the best vidgame graphics, says Sid, “Cameron” has romance and point — being set when “young Frenchmen fought not for money but values and France.” It promises one of the big military smackdowns of 2011.
Julien Leclercq, writer/director
After debuting with the sci-fi thriller “Chrysalis,” Leclercq is back with “The Assault,” an intense thriller based on the 1994 hijacking of an Air France plane by GIA terrorists. One of the rare French films dealing with contempo history, “Assault,” which is repped by Elle Driver, is already building buzz. Mars Distribution will handle the French bow in March. Next up, Leclercq is set to helm “L’Aviseur,” a thriller penned by Abdel Raouf Dafri (“A Prophet”) and adapted from the biography of French undercover agent Marc Fievet, who worked as an informant for the border patrol.
Herve Mimran & Geraldine Nakache, writers/directors
In socially smart dramedy “All that Glitters,” debuting helmer/scribe duo Nakache and Mimran chronicled the highs and lows of two girls trying to break into Paris’ upper-class realms. Delivering a crisp snapshot of today’s French twentysomethings, pic turned into B.O. gold. “French comedies aren’t just about ‘Welcome to the Sticks’ and ‘Le Diner de cons,’ ” says Nakache. “We’re part of a new generation of filmmakers looking to explore different ranges in comedies.” Adds Mimran: “We’re into situational humor.” The pair is currently writing an ensemble dramedy following five friends in their 30s living in Manhattan. Cast will include many “All That Glitters” alumni, including Nakache and Leila Bekhti.
Jeremy Zag, producer
Zag, who at 25 may be Gaul’s youngest animation producer, teamed with animation vet Jacqueline Tordjman in 2008 to launch Univergroup and its subsid Zagtoon, and has started developing the $50 million “Miraculous Lady Bug,” a Paris-set animated fantasy. “We’re buidling a Pixar-style franchise with graphic novels for iPad and iPhones and merchandising,” Zag says. “In France, we tend to favor auteurish animation, and we shy away from homegrown animation brands. But we believe we can deliver well-crafted, innovative features that have a strong marketing appeal.” Also on his slate: “Arthur et les Minimoys,” a toon skein co-produced with Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp.
Priscilla Bertin, Elisa Larriere & Judith Nora, producers, Silex Films
Launched a year ago by Bertin, Larriere and Nora, three young yet experienced femme producers, Silex Films is powering up with projects including Yvan Attal-starrer “Le Horla,” a contempo fantasy thriller freely adapted from Guy de Maupassant’s classic novel. Shingle has just wrapped post-prod on “L’Hiver dernier,” the feature debut of American-Belgian helmer John Shank. On Silex’s development slate: Stephane and Guillaume Malandrin’s “Je suis mort mais j’ai des amis,” starring Bouli Lanners (“Nothing to Declare”). Outfit is also developing “No Water World,” a web-docu series on water supply problems.
Deborah Munzer & Fabrice Bigio, producers
Paris-based shingle Oscar & Rosalie, founded by Munzer and Bigio in 2008, boasts a slate of multicultural arthouse pics. One of the most anticipated projects is Victoria Kaario’s debut “Elsewhere Perhaps.” Based on Amos Oz’s novel, the dramedy takes place on an Israeli kibbutz in the ’60s, where first- and second-generation immigrants of European origin live together. The duo say they’re “looking for projects dealing with interesting historical periods, costumes, strong characters and offbeat humor.” Currently in production: Dante Desarthe’s “Je fais feu de tout bois,” a comedy repped by Bac Films.