Created by French Film distributor-exhibitor Sophie Dulac to build a bridge between the French and American film industries and cultures, the Champs-Elysees Film Festival has expanded its scope with an international industry sidebar and a sharp editorial line.

When it was launched four years ago, the festival got a lukewarm welcome from the French film community because it clashed with the Paris Cinema festival, which has now folded, and the Deauville film fest, another showcase for U.S. indie movies.

Yet the Champs-Elysees event — presided over this year by Jeremy Irons and Emilie Dequenne — seems to have found its footing. The competition sporting U.S. films is mostly dedicated to challenging, topical movies, that don’t have a French distributor. Among the eight titles set to compete, Dulac cited two thought-provoking documentaries: Matthew Heineman’s “Cartel Land,” about a small-town physician waging a war against Mexico’s Knights Templar drug cartel, and Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker’s “Welcome to Leith,” about the white supremacist Craig Cobb’s attempt to take control over a North Dakota town.

“The films we choose are smaller American gems, and they are not the typical U.S. films that we see in French theaters,” Dulac says. “So we hope to attract some medium-size and bigger French distributors, like ARP Selection, which can afford to take risks on these titles.” He adds that local distribs don’t receive any subsidies to release U.S. films.

Many French distributors have reduced their acquisitions of U.S. fare due to their often-limited theatrical potential and the fact that few get picked up by TV since the films do not count toward the quotas dictating the amount of French and European films shown on Gallic channels.

While the festival is still pretty young, its organizers can command the best theaters on the famed boulevard, including Dulac’s own venue.
French film distributors increasingly use the fest as a launchpad for upcoming releases, some of which world-premiered at Cannes. One of those Cannes films making its way to Paris is Guillaume Nicloux’s “Valley of Love,” above, the Isabelle Huppert-Gerard Depardieu starrer. Gallic distributor Le Pacte will open the film festival with that competition title.

U.S. studios also use the fest’s spotlight for releases, including Fox, which is unspooling the comedy “Spy.”

The Champs-Elysees fest also benefits from the industry presence at the Paris Coproduction Village, the companion forum to Les Arcs’ European Film Festival’s mini-mart. Now in its second year, the Paris event isn’t just a vain attempt to professionalize the festival: Les Arcs has forged a strong track record, having given several award-winning films, such as this year’s Cannes’ Grand Prize winner “Son of Saul” and “Rams,” which won Un Certain Regard, a chance to screen.
Keeping the same framework as Les Arcs, the Paris Coproduction Village — spearheaded by managing director Pierre-Emmanuel Fleurantin and Vanja Kaludjercic, head of industry events — will present 14 projects that don’t have a sales agent or a French co-producer.

Fleurantin cites projects such as “The Omission” from Sebastian Schjaer, whose short “The Broken Past” played at this year’s Directors’ Fortnight; “Look Up” from Fulvio Risuleo, whose short “Varicella” won a prize at this year’s Critics’ Week; and “Opening Hours,” “an omnibus feature comprising segments helmed by Anocha Suwichakornpong, Vorakorn Ruetaivanichkul and Wichanon Somumjarn (“Mother”)” as some of the more anticipated films in the Coproduction Village.

The industry platform will be completed by U.S. in Progress Paris, a selection of six American films in post-production, notably Deb Shoval’s “AWOL,” based on her Sundance-preeming short, and Carson Mell’s “Another Evil.”

Next up, Dulac says she aims at broadening the festival’s reach by linking up with U.S. festivals, such as Chicago’s, and possibly open the selection to non-French and U.S. international films.