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Lumiere rocks to French classics

Gaumont, Pathe, Studiocanal reveal first titles of restoration plans

LYON, France

Steered by helmer Bertrand Tavernier and Cannes topper Thierry Fremaux, France’s Lumiere Grand Lyon Festival closed Saturday having confirmed that it has a vibrant future celebrating cinema’s past.

Running eight days, the 4th Lumiere fest unveiled world premieres of a string of restored classics. It also attracted a host of stars and directors to introduce restorations, retro titles and reissues.

On Saturday night Ken Loach accepted fest’s Prix Lumiere, bestowed by soccer player-turned-actor Eric Cantona; helmer Michael Cimino joined Isabelle Huppert to present a closing night gala screening Sunday of his “Heaven’s Gate.”

Among big Gallic events earlier at the fest, Gaumont heads Nicolas Seydoux and Sidonie Dumas unveiled a pristine restored print of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1942 directorial debut “The Murderer Lives at Number 21,” a Paris-set dramedy whodunit from the once disdained but now acclaimed filmmaker.

Sophie Seydoux, chair of the Jerome Seydoux-Pathe Foundation, introduced the world premiere of Raymond Bernard’s fully-restored “Les Miserables.” When shot in 1934, the four hour, 46 minute movie was the biggest ever made in France, she noted.

Max von Sydow presented Ingmar Bergman’s “The Seventh Seal,” another first-time restored print outing.

All the titles are the first fruit of far larger classics drives.

In July, Gaumont, France’s government and investors inked to share costs of the restoration and digitization of 270 Gaumont library titles. Highlights include Maurice Pialat’s “Under the Sun of Satan” and Jean Vigo’s “L’Atalante.”

Pathe unveiled a five-year-plan to restore and digitize over 100 library titles on Oct. 8. “Miserables,” which is one of them, will bow on Blu-ray in February or March, Seydoux said.

Studiocanal has closed with Swedish lab Svensk on French distribution rights to almost all Ingmar Bergman’s films. It plans a big event next fall, the theatrical release of some titles and a Blu-ray/DVD box set of Bergman’s complete works, said Studiocanal exec VP communication Sophie Kopaczynski.

Full capacity crowds at “Les Miserables” and “Murderer” recalled first-run world premieres.

However pioneering, French film restoration still faces a huge challenge, Wild Side distributor Manuel Chiche said in Lyon citing the failure of film-buff audiences from the 1970s onwards to transmit the values of the French classics to new generations.

Some headway may now be being made. Distribution remains niche, but sometimes encouraging.

Kopacynski pointed to Jean Renoir’s Studiocanal restored “The Grand Illusion.” Released by Carlotta Films in mid February, it chalked up $200,000 at the box office on 25,000 ticket sales, and sold 2,891 Blu-ray Studiocanal Collection units and 7,494 DVDs.

Pathe’s “The Leopard” restoration likewise sold 26,450 tix off four digital prints and two 35mm prints, Seydoux said.

Restoration economics, moreover, are often those of catalogue sales and not individual titles.

“Money involved is not millions of dollars per titles, but the volume of trading is significant over the years,” Studiocanal’s Matthieu Gondinet pointed out.

For Gaumont communication head Ariane Toscan du Plantier, “The catalogue of Gaumont is the value of Gaumont. Restorations keep your library alive, creating value for VOD, Blu-ray and HD TV channels.”

France’s restoration scene is building.

“One day soon in Paris or Lyon we’ll have dedicated classic film cinemas, as we have arthouses,” said Fremaux, who is also Lyon’s Institut Lumiere director.

Distributors are experimenting. Chiche announced at Lyon that Wild Side will re-issue “The Night of the Hunter” on Oct. 31 with a Blu-ray edition, two DVDs, book and audio CD of Charles Laughton’s original commentary. Costing €80 ($103), edition is limited to 5,000 units.

Lumiere ticket sales were tracking at 75,000-80,000 this year, 25% up on 2011 and stars are now lining up to present Gallic classics at Lyon.

Fremaux said Saturday, “We’re all movie buffs. And it’s so good to say to a person or an audience: ‘Here’s a film I’d like to offer you.’ “

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