MK2 on the road to crossover pics

Company broadens repertoire and looks to future

Making films by Claude Chabrol, Alain Tanner and Krzysztof Kieslowski, Gallic producer-distrib MK2 has been a mainstay of arthouse cinema for many years.

Now, under prexy Nathanael Karmitz, who took over from his dad, founder Marin Karmitz several years ago, MK2 is radically broadening its repertoire, and setting out a gameplan for energetic growth in both production and exhibition.

“Our directors want to reach audiences, not just be at festivals,” says Nathanael Karmitz.

Its latest production move is a far cry from auteur fare: “Cameron” is a 3D action fantasy pic written and to be directed by Julien Lacombe and Pascal Sid (“Behind the Walls”). It begins with French Legion troops in a training maneuver emerging from a tunnel in 1943 to be confronted by German troops.

“We don’t have good war movies in France,” Karmitz says.

Budgeted at E10 million ($13 million) and now casting, “Cameron” will shoot next summer.

It adds dimension to an already increasingly eclectic production slate.

At Cannes, MK2 bowed “Certified Copy,” by Iranian helmer, Abbas Kiarostami.

Plenty of attention was generated from the Venice world preem of “Black Venus,” the first in a three-pic production pic with Abdellatif Kechiche.

Both “Copy” and “Venus” can be seen as steps toward the mainstream for their directors: “Copy” is Kiarostami’s first film shot outside Iran and stars Juliette Binoche; after Cesar-winning “The Secret of the Grain,” about a Maghrebi family in Marseilles, “Venus” plays out on a broader canvas of early 19th century London and Paris.

But where MK2 has really made waves has been in teaming with Francis Ford Coppola to produce Walter Salles’ $25 million “On the Road.”

Salles’ Jack Kerouac adaptation has been set up before — at Pathe and Wild Bunch among others — but never completed financing.

In Cannes, the “On the Road” cast was unveiled, including Kirsten Dunst, Kristen Stewart and Britain’s Sam Riley, and MK2 struck deals with more than 15 territories including Medusa for Italy, Concorde for Germany, Icon (U.K./Australia) and Cineart (Benelux).

Many territories — led by U.S., Canada, Latin America and Scandinavia — are now under negotiations, Karmitz says.

The Kerouac pic went into production Aug. 2, adding Viggo Mortensen, Amy Adams and Alicia Braga to the ensemble.

“‘On the Road’ showed the industry and our directors we are capable of making projects in the U.S. at $25 million or above,” Karmitz says.

Producing four to six films a year, MK2 aims to announce more projects in the range next year, he adds.

“Pure arthouse as we knew it 10 years ago is impossible,” Karmitz concedes.

“I’m a real film buff, but what I like is ranging from mainstream to arthouse,” he adds.

While production and distribution steam ahead, MK2 is also an significant player in arthouse exhibition and even retail.

Karmitz estimates 50% of MK2’s revenue growth will come from production and MK2’s catalog, another 50% from exhibition.

MK2 already owns France’s top Paris-based arthouse/upscale multiplex circuit, with 58 screens.

On Sept. 14, MK2 opens Germain Paradisio, a luxurious 3D 24-seat theater-screening room open to rent by the general public. Half its screenings are booked through to year-end, Karmitz says.

Most of the exhib’s theaters will be digitized by Oct. 15, 100% by year-end.

Even books are on the agenda: MK2 has revamped the main DVD-bookstore at its 14-screen flagship theater, the MK2 Bibliotheque, to create a large cultural boutique opening at the end of September.