Franco film prod’n hits $780 mil in ’97

Centre National backs 158 pics in decade's most active year

In an upbeat report on the state of the Gallic film industry, France’s Centre National de la Cinematographie head Marc Tessier reported the most active year in a decade.

Last year, the French invested $780 million in pic production, backing 158 films, of which the Gauls initiated 125.

Spurred on by the rapid development of multiplexes across France, audiences have been rising for the past three years, hitting 148 million admissions last year. Global box office revenues were $871 million. Results for the first quarter of 1998 are also up from the same period last year.

In the box office championship, Gallic films held their own in the top 10, with Luc Besson’s megabuck sci-fier “The Fifth Element” leading the pack, followed by a more eclectic combo of less pricey comedies “La Verite Si Je Mens,” “Le Pari” and “Didier.”

On the production front for 1998, several companies are stepping up again to make movies well over the average French budget of about $5 million.

Easily the biggest French-lingo project is the Claude Berri-produced “Asterix and Obelix vs. Caesar,” starring Gerard Depardieu and Christian Clavier and budgeted at around $45 million.

Studio Canal Plus has Jean-Jacques Beineix’s first English-language pic “Deal of the Millennium,” set to cost some $60 million; director Mathieu Kassovitz is now prepping his $30 million sci-fi project “Deja Vu,” to be produced by Christophe Rossignon and bankrolled by Gaumont.