An €11 million ($15.74 million) Iranian tale played by French actors shot in a German studio, “Chicken With Plums,” Marjane Satrapi and Vincent Paronnaud’s follow up to “Persepolis,” is precisely the type of films that many producers shun in today’s caution-driven market.

But not Hengameh Panahi, founder and prexy of Celluloid Dreams, which repped “Persepolis” and fully financed, produced and handles international sales on “Plums,” which bows in competition at Venice.

” ‘Persepolis’ was a black-and-white animated film, in 2D, political, Iranian, with French actors, and by first-time directors and producers. So?,” asks Panahi to those who question her business sense. Her self-confidence and taste in material has made her one of the most powerful femme executives within the French film industry.

To finance “Plums,” Panahi structured a co-production between France, Germany with the Manipulators (a joint venture between Celluloid Dreams, Clou Partners and Babelsberg Studios) and Benelux with Ufilm.

Launched 20 years ago as an international sales company dedicated to high-quality director-driven films, Celluloid Dreams began diversifying to ride out of the economic storm. Today the shingle co-owns Celluloid Nightmare, a film label for genre pics; Mubi, Europe’s first community-based VOD platform that now counts more than 1.5 million members worldwide; a production hub in Brazil, Celluloid Dreams Brazil and the Manipulators, a one-stop-shop offering studio facilities, production and international sales and co-productions.

“There is always an audience for good films and we’re in constant search to find new ways to finance, produce, market and distribute them by all sorts of innovative schemes and ideas,” says Panahi.

On the cutting-edge of distribution trends, Panahi says she’s “exploring the possibility of launching a new direct distribution model for specific films that might do better business using their fanbase and social networking to reach their audience.”

“The idea is to release day-and-date on multiple media and multiple countries to increase the exposure and buzz and decrease the P&A.”

Panahi is hoping to put together the first slate of films for 2012-13.

“VOD is at its early stage and it will grow to create, with other media, new forms of connective marketing and distribution, bringing films and their targeted audience together, at lower costs,” she says.

Panahi recently inked a partnership with Blue Lake Fund and FilmNation to acquire and sell films by established directors on their bigger projects.

Finalized in Cannes, deal allows Panahi to position Celluloid Dreams on a more “market-value-driven front where bigger MGs are requested. I’m looking for more ambitious quality films by established directors to greenlight with them.”

Next up, Panahi said she’s partnered with Patrick Siaretta to develop and produce two films by Brazilian helmer Heitor Dahlia (“Adrift”): “Bold Mountain,” an epic Western dealing with the Gold Rush in Amazonia, and “A Girl and a Gun,” a thriller road movie through shingle Patagonia.

Panahi will also produce Jacques Audiard’s next directorial effort, following up on prison drama “A Prophet.” Celluloid Dreams’ new acquisitions include Dennis Gansel’s (“The Wave”) “Moscow Match,” produced by UFA Cinema, and Dorris Doerrie’s Berlin-set love story “Bliss,” produced by Constantin.

“Plums” is one of five films Celluloid Dreams has playing at Venice Film Festival. Cristina Comencini’s “Quando la notte,” plays in competition, while Frederic Weisman’s “Crazy Horse,” Santiago Amigorena’s “Another Silence” and Wim Vandekeybus’s “Monkey Sandwich” unspool at Venice Days.

Venice Film Festival: French Cinema
Rescuing adult fare | Risky pics pay off for producer | Venice verve