Fest offers French hits, fresh talent

COLCOA Film Festival

What: City of Lights, City of Angels
When: April 14-20
Where: Directors Guild Theater, Hollywood
Web: colcoa.org

Last year, Edith Piaf biopic “La Vie en rose” opened City of Lights, City of Angels film festival and went on to win the best actress Oscar for Marion Cotillard. That pic also eventually grossed more than $10 million for Picturehouse in the U.S.

But for dozens of other French films, the Hollywood-based showcase of Gallic cinema might be the only chance for titles to unspool that may not end up with U.S. distribution. “The ultimate goal for us is for (the films) to be sold, but it’s not always easy,” says the fest’s director and programmer, Francois Truffart.

This year’s edition includes 28 features, including two world premieres, from film noir to thrillers to romances. Some titles are clearly in demand — three weeks before the festival, Cedric Klapisch’s Juliette Binoche starrer “Paris” was already sold out. The weeklong event has grown from 3,000 attendees in its first installment 12 years ago to the 12,000 expected this year.

With a mix of commercial films and arthouse fare, Colcoa has a less cerebral feel than New York’s similar event, the Unifrance-sponsored Rendez-Vous With French Cinema. “It’s become mainstream, while keeping auteur films in the mix,” says Kathy Garmezy of the Directors Guild of America, one of the event’s sponsors.

Opening pic “Welcome to the Land of the Ch’tis” is a good example of the commercial side of the event — the raucous comedy recently shot to the top of the international box office due to its boffo results in France. No U.S. distributor has been signed, but it’s already received some remake interest.

That’s just what Colcoa organizers want: to stir up interest not just in distributing French films but also to showcase directing and acting talent and remake rights. And while many of the smaller distribs who typically acquire French films are based in New York, Hollywood is a better base for reaching producers and agents as well as studio specialty divisions.

“The idea was that the heart of the industry is in Hollywood. So it’s important to bring these films, and the people who created them, to where studios and specialty divisions get to talk to them,” says Garmezy, who works with the fest as the DGA’s assistant executive director for government and international affairs.

Three-quarters of the tickets are reserved for industry members, with the rest available to the public, including a loyal core of L.A.’s good-sized French expat community.

“I think Colcoa is a great festival that showcases films from France. It really is for both the L.A. community and the industry,” says Strand Releasing co-prexy Marcus Hu, who acquired Bertrand Blier’s “How Much Do You Love Me?” after seeing how the film performed at the festival. This year, Strand is presenting Claude Miller’s drama “A Secret,” using the festival as a way to reach out to the community and gauge the audience’s reaction to the film, Hu says.

Launched by the French-American Cultural Fund, the event is also presented by the DGA, the Writers Guild and France’s composers union Sacem. The fund, supported by French copyright revenue, also sponsors exchanges such as a six-week screenwriting residency at a French castle and summer school for American film students.

Keeping U.S. moviegoers interested in subtitled fare remains a challenge, however. “The success of the event shows there are really audiences for foreign films,” Truffart says. But he points out that the foreign-film business has become more competitive, with pics from countries like Mexico and Spain attracting bigger auds abroad. With independent distributors largely concentrating on star vehicles and genre films, the market for foreign films has become even tighter, so producers of foreign films are looking at how to attract new audiences through targeted outlets like Netflix and eventually through downloads.

Truffart holds out hope that the current generation of young people might be more open to watching foreign-language films because they are more used to reading text on the Internet. “The potential for foreign films in America is not completely utilized by distributors,” he thinks.

Focus on a filmmaker

April 17 is devoted to Florent-Emilio Siri. His first film, “A Minute of Silence,” as well as his latest, “Intimate Enemies,” will unspool, and there will be a Q&A with the filmmaker.

Don’t forget Happy Hour Talks, in which film professionals tackle issues the industry is facing, April 15-17 & 20.

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