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Distribs descend on Paris screening confab

Unifrance plans Rendezvous with auds

PARIS — Foreign distribs will receive the red carpet treatment, French style, January 21-24 when Gallic film promoter Unifrance hosts its annual Rendezvous with French Cinema in Paris.

The 7-year-old event has grown into a pre-Berlin Festival must for buyers hoping to unearth the next Gallic pic with international appeal — if there are any that haven’t already been snapped up.

Of 72 French films screened this year, Unifrance reckons that some 30-odd will be market premieres. That is plenty to occupy the 350 or so mostly European distribs who will descend on the French capital along with 110 foreign journos, shipped in to interview Gallic movie talent in the plush setting of the Park Hyatt Hotel.

There’ll also be the inevitable hob-nobbing with Gallic top brass at fancy receptions hosted by the likes of Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres.

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But participants will mostly be keen to check out the latest crop of French movies. New pics being screened include Costa Gavra’s “The Ax,” being handled by Studio Canal, the Gerard Depardieu starrer “Boudu” (sold by Pathe Intl.), Josiane Balasko’s new comedy “The Ex Love of My Life” (with Pyramide Intl.), and the Buena Vista-backed penguin doc “The Emperor’s Journey,” being sold by Wild Bunch.

“Berlin is the first important market of the year, it has a festival and it is big and glamorous, but Paris is our first actual sales rendezvous,” says Pyramide Intl. managing director Eric Lagesse. “It is also a great setting in which to highlight a film like ‘The Ex-Love of My Life,’ which is not a film for Berlin.”

For Studio Canal international sales topper Muriel Sauzay, the Paris gathering is also a warm-up for business that will be sealed later at Berlin and Cannes.

“There is a long period between the AFM and Berlin, and distributors who come to Paris can take notes and prepare for Berlin,” says Sauzay.

Unifrance also has its own agenda for the Rendezvous, i.e. getting as many French films as possible sold to as many territories as possible.

In 2004, French films’ overseas box office came in at around the $250 million mark, or 40 million ticket sales, on a par with figures for the past decade. Unifrance prexy Margaret Menegoz, who took over following the sudden death of long-serving topper Daniel Toscan du Plantier at the Berlin Festival in 2003, believes the org mustn’t rest on its laurels.

“If we don’t move forward, we run the risk of slipping back. We have to keep thinking of new ways to get French films in movie theaters around the world.”

In a small but significant piece of progress, last year, the French nibbled away at China’s 20 foreign film quota, exporting four films instead of the one they had sold in previous years. U.S. fare usually occupies 18 out of the 20 quota slots.

Closer to home, the 2-year-old Franco-German cinema forum, held recently in Lyons, and the financial carrot of a co-production “mini-treaty” between the two nations has notably boosted the number of Franco-German co-productions, which in turn has upped the number of Gallic releases in German cinemas. (To date, fewer majority German projects have taken advantage of the fund).

During the Paris rendezvous, Unifrance reps will hold a series of meetings with industryites from Italy, Spain and other interested countries with a view to creating similar arrangements.

Menegoz raised the finance for Michael Haneke’s upcoming Juliette Binoche and Daniel Auteuil starrer “Hidden” thanks to an array of international co-production partners, and she is firmly convinced co-producing is the solution to get a movie to travel beyond its borders, as well as solving the problem of finance.

“It is the best guarantee you have that a film will get a proper release in another country,” says Menegoz.