French release business rattled

Exec, corporate shifts shake distribution sector

PARIS — Confusing at the best of times, the protean French distribution scene is likely to cause even seasoned American Film Market goers to scratch their heads this year.

Since time immemorial, the name Jean Labadie has been associated with Bac, but not anymore. In a move that sent shock waves through the French biz, Labadie, still a shareholder in Bac, was evicted by his company’s majority shareholder Millimages last month.

Other upheavals include the new independence of Mars Distribution, formerly StudioCanal’s theatrical arm, which has gone solo with its long-standing topper Stephane Celerier at the helm.

Celerier was ousted from StudioCanal at the beginning of this year in a particularly ill-timed move on the company’s part — he had just been named France’s distributor of the year for delivering StudioCanal one of its best theatrical years on record. Initially, Celerier will handle the release of a number of titles that were already on the outfit’s lineup at StudioCanal, such as Cedric Klapisch’s “Paris” and Emir Kusturica’s “Promise Me This.”

Other Gallic shake-ups include:

  • Gaumont’s separation from Sony-Columbia. Francois Clerc, the joint venture’s former marketing topper, took over as the Gallic company’s distribution topper July 1.

  • The arrival of Olivier Snanoudj, former director of the French exhibitor’s org FNCF, as deputy managing director of Warner France, in charge of theatrical distribution.

  • Warner Bros. France’s former marketing topper Philippe Desandre’s appointment as head of StudioCanal Distribution.

“These changes aren’t conjunctural, it is just coincidence that they’ve happened around the same time,” says Snanoudj, who’ll be handling upcoming releases such as “Beowulf” and the French laffer “L’Auberge rouge.”

Be that as it may, for sales agents and producers hoping to sell their films to French distributors at the AFM, there’s a learning curve to manage as they deal with new faces — or familiar ones with different remits and budgets.

Gaumont’s Clerc says the French major plans to make a couple of acquisitions a year. Recent pickups included Sean Ellis’ “Cashback” and BBC docu “Planet Earth,” which bowed in France on Oct 10. “Those two films show that we really have a broad scope, both in terms of budget and editorial choice,” says Clerc.

Yves Chevalier, Gaumont’s scout-in-chief, will be at the AFM looking for titles that it can also sell internationally as well as release in France.

As for Mars Distribution, the creation of a new indie distributor means still more competition in the Gallic marketplace.

While Celerier has already acquired a handful of French films, international indie fare also will be a part of the equation going forward as the company heads toward its target of 15-18 releases a year.

“France is a crowded marketplace,” Celerier notes. “It’s up to us to prove there’s room for another player by the quality of our choices.”