An outspoken gatekeeper of arthouse cinema, Eric Lagesse, owner of Paris-based distribution and sales outfit Pyramide Distribution, backs up his tough talk with action.

While the international market is contracting, making safe bets and greenlighting no-brainers, Lagesse continues to fill half of his lineup with bold feature debuts from French and foreign helmers, including Alix Delaporte’s “Angele and Tony” and Eitan Zur’s “Naomi,” which will both preem at Venice.

“First films are tough sales, even more so in this market,” contends Lagesse. “But I’m not looking to become a multi-national corporation.

“We sometimes lose money, but if we want auteur cinema to renew itself, we need to give emerging filmmakers a head start.”

A tenacious self-starter, Lagesse started at Pyramide shortly after its launch in 1989. After briefly serving as personal assistant to company co-founder Claudie Cheval, Lagesse steadily worked his way up until becoming Pyramide’s prexy in 2008.

Under Lagesse, Pyramide has strengthened its role as a leading purveyor of foreign art pics and world cinema, which often end up nabbing fest kudos.

This year’s trophies include Cannes Jury Prize winner “A Screaming Man” from Mahamat Saleh Haroun and Cannes’ Camera d’Or winner “Leap Year” from first-timer helmer Michael Rowe.

Lagesse says he reads about 200 scripts per year and selects about 14 films for French distribution and 20 pics for international sales — most are non-French fare.

The international market is still not back to normal and overall sales are down, he explains, but he’s satisfied with deals inked for “A Screaming Man” (sold in 15 territories), “Leap Year” (20 territories closed) and Eran Riklis’ “The Human Resources Manager” (pre-sold in 12 territories).

All of these films have been warmly received at festivals. But what really matters, per Lagesse, is the screenplay and the pitch that comes with it.

“We pick up over 70% of our lineup at script stage to add a commercial perspective to the filmmaker’s writing process,” says Lagesse. “That’s the only way we can really get involved and generate an upside from distribution and sales.”

As president of Dire, an association of 11 French independent distribs, and as VP of the French Export Union, Lagesse stands in the frontline of most French industry debates. He’s currently campaigning for the CNC, France’s national film organization, to limit the distribution of alternative 3D content in theaters.

“It’s already very tough as it is to stand out in the release clutter in France,” says Lagesse. “The last thing we need is to have soccer games and such monopolizing screens.

“Independent cinema,” he says, “is worth fighting for.”