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Morena Films, Alexandra Lebret Launch Mare Nostrum Productions (EXCLUSIVE)

Paris-based, Mare Nostrum to produce local, European and big international movies

MADRID – Morena Films (“Comandante,” “Che,” “Cell 211”), one of Spain’s best-financed and most international of producers, and Alexandra Lebret (pictured), managing director of the European Producers Club, have teamed to launch Mare Nostrum Productions, a joint venture film production house based out of Paris.

Lebret will head up Mare Nostrum as its president. For Morena, which opened offices in L.A. in September 2013 under producer Pedro Uriol, the move into France now gives it a production presence in the world’s two most significant movie production/sales hubs, while it will continue to also produce in and out of Spain.

As managing director from 2002 of the European Film Producers Club, a networking assn., as well as think-tank and lobby grouping 50 of Europe’s top producers, Lebret brings to the table an enviable host of producer contacts ranged across all of Europe.

First up, Mare Nostrum is co-producing two high-profile Morena productions. One, now in post, is Julio Medem’s “Ma Ma,” a battling mother drama starring and co-produced by Penelope Cruz, which Cruz came to Cannes to present. eOne boutique sales arm Seville international is handling sales; also producing are Medem, Morena’s Alvaro Longoria and Lebret, in association with France’s Backup Media Group.

Mare Nostrum is also partnering Morena on “Altamira,” an English-language, family-skewing tale from a screenplay by “Girl With a Pearl Earring” scribe, Olivia Hetreed.

It begins with the 1879 discovery of stunning pre-historic paintings in caves in northern Spain. A director and international cast will be confirmed shortly; London-based Sympathetic Ink’s Andy Paterson, the producer of “Girl,” also produces, together with Longoria and Lucrecia Botin.

But, Lebret and Morena stressed, Mare Nostrum will also produce movies beyond Morena co-productions.

Mare Nostrum will have three main production lines, she added: French local movies, made on more-contained budgets than some French films targeting France auds; European productions; and “big international productions,” drawing on European financing sources and production partners, such as “Altamira.”

In terms of production levels, Lebret said she would like Mare Nostrum to produce about three-to-four European productions, one local and one international movie a year. She will continue as EPC managing director.

France is already Morena’s second home. Whenever the production company, launched in 1999 by founder-partners Longoria, Juan Gordon and Lucrecia Botin, has embarked on bigger-budget titles, or ones with obvious international potential, it has looked to France for co-financing or sales.

Starting with Oliver Stone’s Fidel Castro portrait “Comandante,” Wild Bunch has sold many of Morena’s biggest films, cultivating a long-term film-by-film sales relationship.

Of recent movies, Morena has also served as a minority co-producer on Fidelite Films/Wild Bunch’s tentpole “Asterix and Obelix: God Save Britannia,” Benoit Jacquot’s 2012’s “Farewell, My Queen,” with GMT Productions and Les Films du Lendemain, which took a minority participation in the Morena-led end-of-the-world thriller “The Last Days.”

Mare Nostrum takes Morena’s French presence to another level, however. It comes after box office in Spain slumped 16% in 2013 to Euros 508 million ($667.5 million), and 26.5% from 2004’s best-ever Euros691.6 million ($908.8 million), per Rentrak.

“Paris has a strong market in terms of audience and financing in place,” Lebret said.

“The French industry complains about its market’s problems, but it is still far larger than Spain’s and the French films’ market share way beyond Spain’s,” added Morena’s Gordon. “Rather than consider the U.S. and France as potential markets we thought: “Let’s become a producer of French and American films.’ For France, however, Gordon added, “we didn’t want to just go there, work in France just being Spaniards, we needed a French player to be our partner there.”

Longoria added: “Diversification into France and the U.S. is a prolongation of our initial objective: Morena always wanted to make films which had an international appeal.

Said Pilar Benito, Morena Films’ managing director: “Something we’ve thought through a lot is: What do we know we can do. We know how to make films, not Spanish film, but FILMS.” “We’ve made films in Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Switzerland, Germany, England. Our expertise is making films anywhere,” she added.

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