Jean-Paul Salome

The French movie industry has been fiercely debating key issues: Exorbitant movie budgets, release windows, the difficulties of domestic distribution. But as a formidable festival force, France reigns near supreme in the sheer quantity of quality production.

Its presence has grown in the second half of 2014. At major festivals, only the U.S. bests France — quite obviously — at Toronto and Sundance.

The 71st Venice edition has made up for a lack of glam with early, well-received films from France and the U.S. such as Fox Searchlight’s “Birdman” and Ramin Bahrani’s “99 Homes” from Hyde Park Intl., Xavier Beauvois’ “La Rancon de la gloire” and Benoit Jacquot’s “Three Hearts.”

With still-to-play productions in Venice sections — Abel Ferrara’s “Pasolini,” produced by Paris’ Capricci Prods., Amos Gitai’s “Tsili,” Laurent Cantet’s “Return to Ithaca” — France has also made the most moves in the build-up to the Venice Film Market.

Bac Films announced a five-fold hike in movie investment, Memento Films Intl. swooped in on “Court,” Films Distribution tapped “Goodnight Mommy,” the Bureau Sales announced international rights to “The Goob,” UDI nabbed Croatian Ognjen Svilicic’s “These Are the Rules” and the Coproduction Office boarded Shinya Tsukamoto’s competition player “Fires on the Plain.”

France has 22 movies in Venice’s Official Selection and Venice Days, the same as Italy. The U.S has 17.

That’s not a one-off trend. Some 41 majority-French productions and a total 55 French productions play Toronto, a record, per Gallic export org UniFrance. At Spain’s upcoming San Sebastian fest, six French productions screen in competition vs. Spain’s four.

Why France has become so formidable is another question.

“French production continues to have a remarkable diversity. Since each festival has a different selection focus, it can find in French productions the films it’s looking for: auteur films, first-time directors and up-and-coming talents,” said UniFrance president Jean-Paul Salome.

That broad range is due to Gaul’s cultural exception. “Our film funding system still allows this diversity of films to be made,” he said.

France produces 60 debut films a year. A new generation of producers — Frederique Jouve and Gregory Bernard, producers of Venice players “40-Love” and “Reality” for example — are also broadening production styles, Salome added.

French producers have also driven into international co-productions — 116 last year — with top directorial talent worldwide. Only eight of France’s 22 major-section Venice films have Gallic helmers.

“I am impressed by the number of outstanding auteur films, which combine point of view with the power of storylines and the capacity to address a wide audience, while maintaining (artistic) rigor,” said Venice fest director Alberto Barbera.

Put that down in part to the TV backing for auteur films in France from Canal Plus, Arte and France Televisions in a market where domestic films still command an market share as high as 40%-plus.
However, Salome added: “The danger is of French movies becoming just festival films. We’d like them to enjoy healthy commercial distribution as well.”

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