UniFrance Courts Exhibition Sector, Youth, E.U.(EXCLUSIVE)

Trendsetting French promo org sets industry agenda

LOCARNO –Designing a brace of novel industry initiatives that may well be taken on board by other major international film powers, Gallic promotion org UniFrance Films is forging ahead with new industry alliances.

Banner focuses feature novel exhibition link-ups, a play for young target groups, a presence in key and underserved markets and a constant lobby presence in Brussels, tne seat of the E.U.’s all-powerful Commission.

Delivered at the Locarno Festival by Jean-Paul Salome and Isabelle Giordano, UniFrance president and managing director, the drill-down on UniFrance policy comes as Luc Besson’s “Lucy” powers toward $100 million Stateside and France accounts for 13 of the 50 movies playing Locarno’s main three sections – a reminder of France’s central position in both mainstream and arthouse filmmaking in Europe.

Agnes Varda, Juliette Binoche and Jean-Pierre Leaud receive Locarno awards.

“What we’re really pleased about is the diversity of the French presence, from Luc Besson to Jean-Pierre Leaud, said Giordano.

Of new plays for audiences, UniFrance is currently negotiating with Robert Sunshine to feature a French movie slot at Florida’s ShowEast 2014 in late October.

Giordano commented: “An exhibition trade fair slot creates a great buzz on Facebook and Twitter. People start asking: ‘Have you seen the French lineup this year?’”

Euro film/TV group Studiocanal, H.Q-ed out of Paris, and UniFrance both already presented a line-up of trailers at June’s CineEurope in Barcelona to the rank and file of European exhibitors.

UniFrance is also launching a five-day French film festival, Tu Cita Con el Cine Frances!, in Madrid, Barcelona and Seville overOct.14-18.

Underscoring the breadth of French cinema, titles screening range from Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardennes’ Cannes competition contender “Two Days, One Night,” with Marion Cotillard, distribbed in Spain by Wanda Films, and a Sundance Selects U.S. pick-up; to “Serial (Bad) Weddings,” France’s biggest local hit to date of 2014, with an around €73.2 million ($98.1 million) hometurf B.O. A Contracorriente Films handles the Spanish release;  “Weddings” star Christian Clavier will attend the Festival.

All shown subtitled, films have Spanish distributors and will bow in the month after the Festival, Salome said. “It is good to work a market and support distributors when they’re going through a difficult time,” he added.

Also screening at Tu Cita are five upcoming Golem releases, including Benoit Poelvoorde/Charlotte Gainsbourg starrer “Three Hearts,” a romantic drama, to Laurent Cantet’s Cuba-set friendship drama “Return to Ithaca,” to “La rançon de la guerre,” the first comedy from Xavier Beauvois (“Of Gods and Men”) and François Ozon’s Toronto-bound “The New Girlfriend.”

Aiming to connect France’s newest generation of cineastes – directors and stars – with YA avid filmgoers around the world, UniFrance launched in 2011 the online MyFrenchFilmFestival and now has a Young French Cinema program at U.S. universities. Lineup includes some of the most critically-lauded fiction debuts or sophomore outings of the last 12 months, such as Rebecca Ziotowski’s “Grand Central,” Guillaume Brac’s “Tonnerre,” Justine Triet’s “Age of Panic” and Thierry de Prietti’s “Apaches.” “If  Larry Clark went to the French island of Corsica and made a film, it might look an awful lot like ‘Les Apaches,’ Variety’s Peter Debruge wrote.

“We are promoting ever more the new generation of French actors and actresses, such as Lea Seydoux, not only in the U.S. but also Europe” Salome commented.

UniFrance is also talking to German and Italian film authorities to create a joint permanent lobby presence in Brussels, the seat of the E.U.’s European Commission, and the base, with Strasbourg, of its European Parliament. They aim to organize European film screenings as a new E.U. Commission and European Parliament prepares to settle in from November.

“We want to lobby before there is any kind of new crisis that blows up about a cultural exception in Europe,” Giordano said.

The moves build on a brace of developments. Though hit by the build of local industries worldwide (which the French industry has assimilated by selling many of the top movies from local industries worldwide), France remains the world’s second biggest movie export force, after the U.S. French films grossed €873 ($1.2 billion) in theatrical revenues outside France in 2012, €280 million($380.8 million) – in an off-year with no huge English-language locomotive – in 2013.

A UniFrance/Opinion Way April 2014 study, unveiled at Cannes, “The Image of French Cinema” suggested that French cinema still has unreleased potential abroad. 74% of the 5,991 people polled in 14 foreign countries said they appreciated French films a lot or quite a lot, with French cinema rating as the third most appreciated in Europe – after the American and British – and second most appreciated in Asia, after U.S. films.

48% of people polled said French cinema was better than 10 years ago, 6% thought it worse.

“French cinema can be a real alternative to Hollywood, spectacular and daring,” said Giordano.

As exhibitors are increasingly coming to be regarded as gatekeepers to movies’ retail success, UniFrance has met with noteworthy early success establishing direct alliances with an European exhibitor, UCI in Italy, part of Europe’s biggest cinema chain. Investing €10,000 ($13,400) in P & A coin on French films released in a UCI multiplex across seven Italian cities, which have to screen for a minimum two weeks, UniFrance saw “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” distribbed by Andrea Occhpinti’s Lucky Red, punch $2 million in Italy, double its respective B.O. trawls in U.K., Germany and Spain. Released by the Wild Bunch co-owned BIM, “Young & Beautiful’s” Italian B.O. bested Germany’s, a 65% bigger market.

UniFrance has renewed its alliance with UCI for eight-to-ten films over June to December this year.

“It’s not science, but most of the time when you a French movie launched in a country when there is UniFrance financial support, the film launches quite well,” said Giordano.

She added: “Some important films (‘Blue Is the Warmest Color,’ ‘Young & Beautiful,’ ‘Me, Myself and Mum’) have found this way a new audience. For instance, in Italy without the deal with UCI and the help of UniFrance, these films would never have been in theaters like multiplexes.”

Aiming to “show the best of French films in areas where audiences have little access to films,” said Giordano, UniFrance, in Seville, for Tu Cita, UniFrance can now count on the support of French exhibition-international sales group MK2, which already runs Paris’ highest-profile arthouse circuit, and aims to use its expertise as a highly active live-event organizer and alternative cinema exhibitor to boost the fortunes of Cinesur, the biggest cinema theater loop in southern Spain, which it bought this year.

Another cause for UniFrance content: Switzerland is a ready overlap market for big French comedies: “Serial (Bad) Weddings” notched up 145, 679 tix sales through June 30, Dany Boon’s “Superchondriac” 135, 857 admissions. They are the only two non-U.S. movies in Switzerland’s first half 2014 top ten. In a French Touch aid program, UniFrance puts up some P & A for films at Swiss arthouse cinemas in July and August.

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