CANNES — Mongrel International’s Chantal Chateauneuf and Georgia Poivre, at Films Distribution, won ex aequo the Cannes Marche du Film’s first-ever plaudit, a Cinando Best Seller Award, presented on Wednesday evening at the Cannes Film Market’s Festivals & Sales Agents Mixer, a networking event.
An early evening earlier, Poivre and Chateauneuf were among 13 young sales agents who had pitched “Codename: Madeleine,” to four jury members, three distributors – Sony Pictures Classics’ Dylan Leiner, Norio Hatano at Japan’s Longride, Ira Von Gienanth, from Germany’s Prokino – and producer-sales agent Raphael Berdugo, founder of France’s Cite Films.
It was no easy sell. A real project from Pan Nalin (“Samsara,” “Angry Indian Goddesses”), “Codename: Madeleine” turns on Noor Inayat Khan. Anybody who’s read about WWII espionage may remember photos of a young Indian woman of extraordinary beauty and deep intense eyes, the daughter of a Sufi master, who fled with her family from Paris to London in WWII. Why she joined the WAAF (Women’s Auxiliary Air Force), then British Secret Services, and parachuted into Nazi-occupied France as a wireless operator, when life expectancy there for a spy is only 6-10 weeks, is a large resonant question. Her fate will haunt anyone.
Khan was one of only three women awarded a George Cross and French Croix de Guerre for courage during WWII Pitching, Chateaneuf and Poivre were “conversational, clear, enthusiastic and creative,” said Leiner, not easy when you have not one but four distinguished industry executives listening smiling to your each and every word.
The third finalist was Rahmat Adam, from Creative Content Malaysia. “Yesterday, before going to the pitching contest, I almost wet my pants,” he joked, He in fact delivered his presentation with an almost Zen-like calm, using a striking visual, a one-sheet of Khan on a beach, alone, looking towards the light of a sunset. The engaging Emmanuel Pisarra, at France’s Doc and Film, took an honorable mention at the Cinando Best Seller Award.
“He’s on his way to becoming a major sales agent in the future,” Longride’s Hatano commented.
“‘Codename: Madeleine’ is not just another action or spy movie, sellers have to bring something unique to the market,” Berdugo added.
Both winners captured the sense of an extraordinary life story. That’s key. Even as the international film business is dominated ever more by pay TV, telco and new studio behemoths whose revenues are counted in billions, not millions, much of the independent film and TV business still remains, in the ultimate analysis, a question of buying and selling prototypes, a process accelerated by meetings at festivals and markets.
Choosing projects or completed films, deciding how to bring them onto the market, sometimes on board from development, and shaping market perception of a film, sales agents are one of movie businesses’ main bridges between creativity and commerce.
“A pitch can kill a film or make a film exist, you can perfectly destroy interest in a film by badly pitching it. It really is a delicate operation,” said Hatano. Here,Variety profiles the two Cinando Best Seller Award winners, picking up on comments made its jury after their decision and for a taped interview, made for the Cannes Film Market.
From a an internship in acquisitions with Wild Bunch, based out of New York over 2012-13, to a gig in the home entertainment marketing department at Paris-H.Q.-ed Studiocanal in 2014, to international sales manager at Wide in 2015, Poivre has come a long way fast. She joined Paris-based Films Distribution – one of Europe’s highest-profile sale companies with subsids or affiliates in Berlin, Brussels and now London – as international sales manager in April.
Pitching, Poivre said Wednesday, “I tried to do what I’ve seen [Films Distribution partners] Nicolas [Brigaud-Robert] and Francois [Yon] do: Get to the passion of the story, its essence, the characters. Without motivation, there’s no character, no conflict, no story.” She was one of the only sales agents to key into what really – in part – might have driven Khan: Her desire to be an Indian “superhero,” in Poivre’s words, serving Britain in WWII so that Britain would serve India’s interests, granting it independence.
Also, her Jewish fiance was deported. “Sometimes, romantic motivation can be above all the rest,” Poivre said. “Dynamic,” in one juror’s words, the ex-Boston U alum, majoring in film and TV, was born and raised in Paris. She was also one of the only sales agents to give ‘Codename: Madeleine’ an industrial context.
“She talked about the timeline, when delivery would be, which kind of festivals the film was suited for,” said Gienanth.
“I try to get very passionate about what I’m selling, communicate not only the story but my excitement about it,” Poivre said.
“She takes pride and joy in getting people to agree with her, convincing a buyer to see a movie or buy it. By the same token, she’s kind and gentle, she doesn’t bully her buyer. If you push people too much, they get scared. It’s like hunting,” said Brigaud-Robert.
CHANTAL CHATEAUNEUF, MONGREL INTERNATIONAL, CANADA
“A good seller is not the person that tells you the entire story but is a person who tells you enough in order for you to want to engage with the story,” Leiner argued.
Chateauneuf was a case in point. With “a flow in her pitch,” said Gienanth, she captured the essence of the story concisely in very few minutes, no easy task.
“It important the sales agent knows about the director they’re pitching,” Gienanth added. Here Chateauneuf was in her element, Mongrel Intl. having sold “Codename: Madeleine’s” director Pan Nalin’s latest film, “Angry Indian Goddesses”: “He looks at women in India with a fresh, contemporary lens, focusing on the average woman, who is moderately educated, dealing with real female problems: Work-life balance, sexuality,” Chateauneuf enthused.
Like Poivre, Chateauneuf also keyed in what deep motivation” “Part of it is her father’s influence, her religious inclination, which inspired her to fight injustice around the world.”
Very together, Chateauneuf studied at Montreal’s McGill U, started at Mongrel as sales coordinator in 2014 and, when it launched an international sales division under Charlotte Mickie, moved to a sales position. “She’s efficient, astute and passionate. An amazing combination! We’re so lucky to have her on our team,” a proud Mickie glowed.