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Biarritz Rendez-Vous: Film & Picture Rolls Out ‘Churchmen’ (EXCLUSIVE)

Arte-backed series another sign of burgeoning French drama export biz

BIARRITZ, France – Film & Picture, France’s most indie pure-play TV sales agent, is rolling out “The Churchmen,” an Arte France-backed drama that, bowing 2012, is proving a French TV sleeper.

In the latest deals, MHz Choice, the soon-to-re-launch American SVOD service, has acquired U.S rights to Season 3 of the Arte-backed “The Churchmen.” Deal was sealed at the TV France Intl. Biarritz Rendez-Vous, which hosted Season 3’s first seg world premiere.

Of other sales, revealed by Film & Picture founder-prexy Marie-Laure Hebrard at Biarritz, Tiberius Film acquired in June German DVD rights to Season 3. “Churchmen” plays on Canada’s Videotron Illico VOD platform; Finnish pubcaster YLE will broadcast Seasons 1-3, stripped once a week. Dutch DVD publisher Just Bridge will release the series on DVD and VOD. Italy’s Publispei has acquired the remake rights, DTT/sat channel La Effe the original. In Poland, a private free-to-air channel has picked up Season 1.

Tricolor TV, Russia’s biggest satellite multi-channel service, has also acquired “Churchmen” Seasons 1-3. Running a wide gamut, “Churchmen’s” sales underscore how DTT and especially VOD is hiking sales options for French fare.

Written by Vincent Poymiro and David Elkaim, based on an idea by Bruno Nahon, the classically hewn “Churchmen” turns on five young men who enter Paris’ Capuchins Seminary to train to be priests. The key question, still open in Season 3 when they depart to five corners of France, is, as Father Fromenger puts it in his welcoming sermon: “Are you rady to become disciples of God?” As in U.S. series, “The Churchmen” also records the clash between profession, here an all-absorbing vocation, and private lives. Two of the seminarists are gay, another from a rich family, another an ex-con. Strained relations between Fromenger and the head of the Catholic Church in France and the latter’s realpolitik and relations with the Vatican add an element of intrigue to the series.

Airing on Arte in France and Germany (where it is dubbed), “Churchmen” has doubled Arte France’s Thursday primetime auds.

“The Churchmen” is a highpoint for France’s Zadig Productions, a docu production house that has moved into TV and feature production, backing Pascale Breton’s Locarno competish player “Suite Armoricaine.”

One key to the series’ success was choosing attractive young actors to play the wannabe priests, Hebrard commented.

Deals also highlight other market trends. For Hebrard, “Scandinavian series opened the way to non-English series selling all over the world. After Scandinavia, it’s the turn for a ‘French trend.’”

Launched in 2009, Film & Picture is France’s only French fiction sales agency that is not part of TV group or production company, said founder-prexy Marie-Laure Hebrard. Also specializing in docus, Film & Picture has signed library-representation deals with three French producers: K’ien, Raspail and Alizes. It handles first-run fare from about 60 other indie TV producers.

New programs, sold at the Biarritz Rendez-Vous, included miniseries “Match Day,” a small-town soccer-scene crime thriller directed by Virginie Sauveur, who helmed Spiral Season 4 a Canal Plus Original Series, and detention center redemption drama “Three Times Manon,” produced by Image et Compagnie. “Match Day” won best series at La Rochelle Le Fiction Festival 2014; “Manon” took a FIPA d’Or 2014 drama award.

Film & Picture also shares sales duties with NDM Intl. Sales, on movie/TV series “Li’L Quinquin,” an absurdist small Channel town murder mystery marking a change of gears for celebrated French auteur Bruno Dumont (“Life of Jesus”). “L’il Quinquin” world premiered at Cannes’ 2014 Directors’ Fortnight.

Milestones in the rise and exports of French TV drama have been “Spiral” and “The Returned,” said Hebrard. Both are Canal Plus Original Series. Now Arte is exporting its fiction fare.

“Churchmen,” Quinquin,” “Manon” and “Match Day” are, indeed, all backed by Arte and TV5 Monde.

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