Unifrance 65: Gaul's Film Promo Org

The mission of Unifrance has always been to lift theatrical numbers and broaden the appeal of Gallic fare in challenging markets.

Today the film promo org is finding ever more creative ways to do that. One of them is to join forces with exhibitors.

In Italy, UniFrance has teamed with UCI, the Italo subsid of Europe’s largest cinema chain, to pioneer a business model for goosing overseas audiences for French films. Rolling off a successful first experiment last year with such hits as “Blue Is the Warmest Color” and “Young & Beautiful,” UniFrance and UCI have signed a 10-pic deal for 2014 and will invest €10,000 ($13,900) in P&A coin on every French film released in a UCI-owned multiplex across seven Italian cities.

The idea is to “show the best of French cinema in areas where audiences have little access to French films,” says Isabelle Giordano, UniFrance managing director. “With these P&A funds, exhibitors will be able to publicize each release, produce marketing material and will have to keep films on screens for at least two weeks.”

UniFrance prexy Jean-Paul Salome, who is also a filmmaker, says the program would focus on films that have a large crossover appeal and are already getting a mid-sized release ranging between 30 to 40 screens.

“It’s a win-win strategy for us and for exhibitors,” Salome says. “It allows UCI theaters to reach older audiences who are into arthouse cinema and seldom visit multiplexes; it grows weekday attendance while we get to target younger patrons.”

“‘Blue Is the Warmest Color,’ for instance, normally plays small theaters but its multiplex screenings in Italy means it can bring a new and younger audience to French films,” says Giordano, who works hand-in-hand with her collaborator deputy director Gilles Renouard.

Distribbed by Andrea Occhipinti’s Lucky Red, “Blue” has punched $2 million in Italy, double its B.O. trawls in U.K., Germany and Spain.

The Italian B.O. on “Young & Beautiful,” distributed by the Wild Bunch-co-owned BIM, bests Germany (even though Germany is a far richer market) and more than doubles U.K. gross B.O. receipts.

Salome and Giordano are now looking to expand the model to Spain, as well as farther afield to Mexico, Brazil and India.

“Spain is a difficult market where French films are losing market share. Mexico, meanwhile, is also going through a crisis, but it remains a Francophile country” says Giordano, who recently participated in a trip to Mexico alongside French president Francois Hollande and engaged in advanced discussions with Cinepolis, a leading theater chain there.

Spain’s cinema circuits sector has been decimated by rampant piracy, economic crisis, overscreening and an 8%-21% cinema ticket sales tax hike in September 2012. For 2013, ticket sales were 46% below 2004.

“Ensuring that films get shown in theaters is a priority,” says Giordano, “considering the decline of arthouse circuits in many countries. Exhibitors and distributors really need some incentive to invest in French movies.”

Connecting sales agents with exhibitors is the next step for UniFrance, Giordano adds. The org will bring select sales agents to Cine Europe Barcelona (on June 19), among other conferences.

In other UniFrance-led initiatives, Salome is in discussions with Chinese officials and exhibitors to have arthouse films included in quotas and introduce Chinese auds to a broader range of Gallic movies.

“With the current quota system in China, only six or seven French films can get released there, and we’d like to have 10,” Salome says. “In addition, we would like to have different kinds of movies, not necessarily mainstream movies like (Luc) Besson’s pics, which can get released on 2,000 screens, but also prestigious arthouse movies, many of which play at big festivals, that can get released on 100 or 200 screens in China.”

Salome says the org is on the right path: “Chinese exhibitors are very willing to discuss with us because they’ve noted that in France the theatrical market has been able to absorb 200 American films per year while maintaining a big share for local movies.”

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