New York Rendez-Vous with French Cinema 2012

“The Artist” is on a roll, sweeping trophies around the globe — but that’s only one sign that Gallic cinema has got its mojo back.

In 2010, Franch-language films made 85% of their gross outside France. That number dropped to 52% in 2011 (when the highest-grossing French pics in the U.S. were “Colombiana,” “Unknown” and “The Three Musketeers” — English-lingo pics with English-speaking stars).

But this year, Gallic cinema is set to reach new highs. “The Artist” has already grossed well over $28 million Stateside and is bound to rise to new highs, boosted by its Oscar wins for pic, actor, director and two other trophies.

To be sure, U.S. marketing savvy is partly responsible for the success of “The Artist.” “The film’s upbeat box office results and the fact that its actor Jean Dujardin and director Michel Hazanavicius have been so actively involved in the film’s promotion campaign, orchestrated with brio by the Weinstein Co., are boosting the appeal of French cinema worldwide,” says Regine Hatchondo, managing director of Paris-based pic promotion org Unifrance.

In fact, Weinstein has been grabbing many of 2011’s high-profile French films, notably Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledanos’ “The Intouchables” and Olivier Marchal’s “A Gang Story.” Both titles, repped by Gaumont, will play at the Unifrance Rendez-Vous in New York, the annual week-long French cinema lovefest.

“Recently, there have been more movies from France that speak to us that we’re very excited about,” says David Glasser, COO at Weinstein Co.

The success of “The Intouchables” is rejuvinating the image of French movies and opening up buyers’ minds, says Cecile Gaget, international sales topper at Gaumont. ” ‘The Artist’ and ‘The Intouchables’ underscore the diversity of French cinema today.”

Bowing with “The Intouchables,” the Unifrance Rendez-Vous in New York will sample Gallic work and introduce promising newcomers, notably Delphine and Muriel Coulin’s edgy feature debut “17 Girls,” David and Stephane Foenkinos’ “Delicacy,” and two pics from thesps-turned-directors: Daniel Auteuil’s “The Well-Digger’s Daughter” and Mathieu Demy’s “Americano,” starring Salma Hayek as a Mexican stripper.

And all these directorial debuts have U.S. distribution.

Per Richard Lorber, top exec at arthouse shingle Kino Lorber, which has acquired “The Well-Digger’s Daughter,” “French cinema has found again its authentic voice and is returning to its roots with a new dimension of originality. ‘The Artist,’ ‘Declaration of War’ and ‘Daughter’ are quintessentially French but that have an entertaining value and quality that makes them special.”

Strand Releasing prexy Marcus Hu, who’s picked up “17 Girls” and Andre Techine’s “Inforgivable,” concurs. “We have worked with strong auteurs from Gaspar Noe to Francois Ozon and Andre Techine, and have seen them make a crossover film while still maintaining their strong sense of style.”

After fearing the worst a few years back when the studios shuttered their specialty divisions, many French sellers agree that closing a distribution deal in the U.S. today is easier than in some European countries like Italy or the U.K.

“The U.S. is a market of niches that offers many distribution models,” says Gaget. “There’s an arthouse circuit in New York and L.A. where we can still have a film released on 10 copies, and the VOD model of IFC or Magnolia.” She adds that such new players as Cohen Media Group, Film District and Open Road have also energized the market.

And while VOD may still be in its infancy, it’s giving industryites a new sense of opportunity. “VOD platforms in the U.S. are getting bigger,” says Marie-Laure Montironi, head of internatioanl sales at Luc Besson’s EuropaCorp. “Distributors like Magnolia and Music Box now take into consideration the film’s VOD potential because they know they can sometimes recoup their investment with a good VOD deal.”

The launch of Weinstein Co.’s VOD label, Radius-TWC, is also seen as good news for independent films. “VOD allows us to tap into new audiences for foreign-language movies,” says Glasser. “We’re going to … open the eyes up of everybody to the great kind of cinema that’s out there through our own video-on-demand system.”

“There will always a segment of American viewers engaged with foreign films and edgier product,” says Hu. “The adventurous tastes of cinephiles are always around, they just develop in different ways these days.”

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