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‘Engagement’ is off

Gallic court nixes funding for 2003 Prods.

PARIS — The Gallic film biz is in turmoil over a Paris court’s controversial decision to exclude from Gallic funding 2003 Prods., producer of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s “A Very Long Engagement.”

As had been expected, the court found in favor of the Assn. of Independent Producers, which reps the Gallic majors, and the smaller indies’ Independent Producers Union.

The two orgs had argued that with Warner France topper Francis Boespflug at its head and Warner France employees owning a controlling 32% of the company, 2003 was a Trojan horse via which the Hollywood major was attempting to mine Gaul’s state funding.

For more than a decade, the system has been open to European companies only.

Boespflug reacted angrily to the verdict Friday, calling it “profoundly disappointing,” and he urged Gaul’s film body, the Centre National de la Cinematographie, to appeal.

“This stupefying verdict endangers the financing of the film, 2003 Prods. and, in the longer term, investments in French cinema production,” Boespflug said.

The recently appointed CNC topper Catherine Colonna told Daily Variety that the org was studying the implications of the ruling, which also strips the $56 million French-lingo film, starring Audrey Tautou, of its Gallic nationality.

“It is a shame and indeed rather strange that an ambitious French film like this should be denied access to funding, but it is a complex issue that we must examine fully before deciding what action to take,” Colonna said. “I hope that common sense will prevail.”

Concretely, the ruling bars 2003 Prods. from receiving automatic aid — coin based on a percentage of a movie’s box office earnings that must be reinvested in future French productions.

The Jeunet pic, which has grossed $23.8 million since it bowed three weeks ago, would have brought the company around $4 million in funding, according to some estimates.

Instead, because all ticket sales are taxed, the coin garnered by “Engagement” will go back into the funding kitty to be redistributed among card-carrying French producers.

But this being France, and because the court has effectively challenged the film’s “Frenchness,” there are other implications, ranging from how the verdict may affect the pic’s eligibility for the French Cesar Awards to how it fits in with Gallic broadcasters’ quotas.

“Engagement” is also up for the Prix Louis Delluc for French film of the year.

“It’s mind-boggling. No one knows exactly what to make of it yet,” said an industryite.

Other orgs expressed their disagreement with the verdict.

In a joint statement, the Society of Screenwriters, Directors and Producers, the Society of Film Directors and royalties org the SACD called it “regrettable” and urged the French government to “intervene quickly and energetically to adapt the obsolete and defective rule.”

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