Gauls fume over Warners’ access to prod’n subsidies for Jeunet pic

2003 Productions legally eligible

PARIS — Fuming French majors and irate indies are hell bent on blocking Warner Bros. access to Gallic film production subsidies, as approved by film industry authorities last week.

The Centre National de la Cinematographie (CNC) declared WB’s new Gallic outfit 2003 Productions, producer of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s $45 million production “A Very Long Engagement,” legally eligible for subsidies just like any other French company.

It will be the first time for a Hollywood major to access French production funding in more than a decade. Warner Bros. France spent weeks tweaking the statutes of the new company to ensure it was French-owned and controlled in accordance with Gallic regs.

WB holds a 32% stake while French staff members own the rest.

“We aren’t in the business of financial protectionism,” says CNC topper David Kessler, announcing the news. If the pic starring Audrey Tautou becomes a Gallic box office hit it will mean a windfall of millions. But in keeping with funding regs, the cash must be reinvested in subsequent French productions.

“It’s good news,” enthuses Francis Boespflug, prexy of WB France. “Having access to French film funding will allow us to make more risky movies in the future.”

Producer Thomas Langmann — whose pics “Le Boulet” and the upcoming “Double Zero” were backed to the tune of 16 million euros by WB France — also applauded the move. But the French majors Gaumont, UGC and Pathe, and mini major MK2, have no interest in WB playing a more active role in French film production. Their distribution partnerships with Hollywood majors make it tricky for them to crow too loudly about Warner, but the Gallic groups and the Societe des Producteurs Independents, which reps mostly small arthouse producers, separately declared war last week.

“There is ambiguity about the control of this ‘French’ company and we are going to take the matter to court,” Hortense de Labriffe, director of the Gallic majors’ Association of Independent Producers, says firmly.

Others in the business are more circumspect, pointing out that the Hollywood majors had access to the funding system in the past and made a positive contribution to French cinema by financing movies by the likes of Louis Malle and Francois Truffaut, until the law was changed in the early 1990s.

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