ALMATY, Kazakhstan — Gallic movies are to get a distribution boost in Kazakhstan after the launch Thursday of the country’s first-ever festival of French films.

The French Cinema Today program — running as part of the 6th Eurasia Intl. Film Festival and organized by industry promotion body Unifrance — showcases the work of eight French arthouse directors.

The three-day program, in association with Kazkah film company Arman, will be followed by the limited release of six of the eight films.

Joel Chapron, Eastern Europe and Central Asia rep for Unifrance, said that French films rarely get released in Kazakhstan because not all Russian distributors — who tend to buy rights that include the territory — see it as financially viable to market arthouse films in the country.

Last year, 238 films were released in Kazakhstan — compared with 350 in Russia — and in a market dominated by Hollywood fare competition for screen space is fierce.

Widespread under-reporting of ticket sales in many cinemas also tends to discourage distributors of limited release titles.

But Chapron believes the Kazakh film market is fast maturing and is now at the point where Russia was a decade ago — before it went from being virtually bottom of the international box-office league to its position today as around the fifth biggest exhibition market in the world.

Working with Baurzhhan Shukenov, head of Arman and the Paramount rep in Kazakhstan, Chapron struck deals with a number of Russian distributors, including Moscow’s Kino Bez Granits and Ruscico.

“Kazakh cinema is growing — there are now 174 screens, of which 32 are digital. Two years ago there were only two digital screens,” Chapron said.

“I am confident in the future of cinema here.”