Gaul film production up 22.6%

Numbers include 187 local pix, French-lead co-prod'ns

The French film biz churned out a record 240 films in 2005, up 37 on the previous year, for a total budget up 22.6% to $1.57 billion.

The numbers include 187 French films and French-lead co-productions, up from 167 the previous year.

But you can have too much of a good thing.

Presenting the annual report into French production Thursday, Veronique Cayla, head of the Centre National de la Cinematographie, said the hike in the number of films would be “worrying” if the trend continued.

“Theatrical and TV markets will have a real problem absorbing so many films and giving them the opportunity to reach an audience,” Cayla said.

However some factors driving up production are poised to change, notably the competition between Canal Plus Group, French cinema’s single biggest backer, and rival pay TV operator TPS, which are merging.

With a new deal between the pay TV partners and French cinema groups yet to be thrashed out, exactly how the industry will be affected is speculation, Cayla said.

While the French film system is often accused of being too isolationist — the unresolved brouhaha over helmer Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Warner Bros.-backed “A Very Long Engagement” is a case in point — 2005’s figures show greater exchange between France and other countries, with increased foreign investment in Gallic films and more French money invested in films from other countries.

Co-productions were up 56% to 114 and, reflecting greater balance between inward and outward investments, 61 were French-lead co-productions.

“Other European countries are making greater efforts to boost their national film industries than they were ten years ago, and that means today in countries like Germany, Italy and Spain there are more foreign films to invest in,” Cayla said.

In terms of Gallic investments, Canal Plus pre-bought 120 French films for $153.4 million, down 7.8% on the previous year.

The paybox now invests less than 14% of the money plowed into French cinema compared with 22% in 2000, because other sources of funding are available.

Local terrestrial webs, also obliged to invest a percentage of their revenues in French cinema, contributed $145 million, down 3.9%.