La Famille Belier, sold by SND
Courtesy: SND

UniFrance, the French film promotion org, is launching the first edition of Mercado del Cine Frances, a mini-mart hosted this week during Miami Intl. Film Festival.

As part of the mini-mart, UniFrance is organizing 26 screenings of French films in theaters of the Regal chain. The first edition has drawn 17 French sales agents including Wild Bunch, Le Bureau, Elle Driver, Le Pacte, Bac, Gaumont, SND and Versatile, and 27 Latin American distributors, including Mexico’s Mantarraya and Nueva Era Films, which organizes a French Film Tour all year around in Mexico and central America, Brazil’s Imovision, Argentina’s CDI and Cine Colombia.

The Mercato is part of our strategy to organized targeted events in key markets around the world — we already have the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in Paris, New York, Seoul and Tokyo,” said Gilles Renouard, managing director of UniFrance. “The Latin American is growing very rapidly — Mexico actually boasts the world’s fifth biggest B.O. market, Peru is fast-emerging and in Colombia, theatrical admissions have gone up between 15% and 20%.”

In the last four years, a number of French movies such as “Intouchables,””Serial (Bad) Weddings,””The Little Prince,””The Belier Family” and “Beauty And The Beast” have performed particularly well across various territories in Latin America, revealing the appetite of South American audiences for Gallic fare.

Leopoldo Jimenez, who’s attending the market for Nueva Era Films, said Mexican audiences had a growing appetite for French films and foreign-language films in general. He said the main challenge going forward is to get French movies to play in Mexican multiplexes that dominate the local theatrical landscape with about 85% of the box office’s market share.

Another challenge is to expand the interest of Latin American audiences for a wider range of French films, particularly auteur movies that are not mainstream. Currently the types of French films that work across Latin America are genre films, thrillers and animated films such as “The Little Prince” which sold 2 million tickets in Brazil, per Renouard.

Renouard added that UniFrance chose to host the even in Miami because it’s an entry point to the Latin American market and is home to various Pan-American TV services such as HBO. The confab allows sales agents to reach a wide sample of Latin American distributors which tend to be split between Ventana Sur and the AFM.

Jaie Laplante, who’s been Miami film festival’s executive director and director of programming for the last six years, said the city had become a hub for Latin American branches of U.S. companies such as HBO, Sony, Fox and Discovery because they’re allowed to benefit from the U.S. legal system and use U.S. dollars as currency, among other reasons.

“Miami is between two worlds. It’s not the U.S., and it’s not Latin America either — it’s a non-political unifier,” said Laplante, adding that besides its advantageous location, Miami was also chosen by UniFrance to host the market because it’s a Francophile city where French films generally perform well. As a programmer, Laplante says he’s always been interested in selecting Gallic pics. For instance this year, he picked up Jacques Audiard’s “Dheepan” for the Knight Competition lineup.

Jimenez, who also organizes the French Films Tour, is always on lookout for different kinds of French-language films. His recent acquisitions include Dardennes brother’s “Two Days, One Night,” a Belgian-French drama with Marion Cotillard, and “Quantum Love” with Francois Cluzet and Sophie Marceau, as well as Xavier Giannoli’s “Marguerite” with Cesar-winning Catherine Frot.

Pia Barragan, from Cine Colombia, said French comedies with family or social themes are highly popular in Colombia and cited the strong performance of “The Untouchables” and more recently the dramedy “La Belier Family” which sold 550,000 tickets, on par with “Taken 3.”

“Colombia counts a flurry of French institutes and schools, so there is a very large audience for French movies; we love French culture and share cultural and social similarities,” explained Barragan, who also claimed that French movies were the second most popular foreign-language films in Colombia after U.S. movies.

Seeking to cultivate ties with multiplex execs, UniFrance has invited a top exec from Cinepolis, one of the two major multiplexes in Mexico which is getting into distribution.

The first edition of the Mercado del Cine Frances is taking place March 8-10.

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