PARIS – UniFrance, Europe’s biggest national cinema promo org, and Orange, one of its most heavyweight of telcos, have sealed a strategic alliance for Orange to offer UniFrance’s MyFrenchFilmFestival on its pan-continental Africa Star website/VOD service.
Targeting Africans from Morocco to Mali, the Sudan to South Afrca, Africa Star now offers the ten-feature online fest, a showcase for up-and-coming French directors, whether “Inglourious Basterds” actress-turned-helmer Melanie Laurent (“Breathe”), Thomas Lilti, whose “Hippocrate” also played Cannes Critics’ Week, or Robin Campillo, a Venice Horizons winner with “Eastern Boys”.
For Orange, which posted €41 billion ($49.2 billion) sales in 2013 and is already a Cannes Festival sponsor, the partnership reps further profile as the telco drives into content to prime its triple and quad play offers. Its movie channel bouquet OCS has already committed €179 million ($214.8 million) for French/European film investment through 2018.
As for UniFrance, the move into Africa is part of a multi-point agenda as president Jean-Paul Salomé and managing director Isabel Giordano gauge priorities for a second two-year term of office: Elected in 2012, their candidature for re-election has gone unopposed, a sign of satisfaction in the industry. Elections take place Feb. 2.
UniFrance roadmap highlights include Africa, gigital distribution, China, support for arthouses, screen access to multiplexes, talent support for international launches, closer links to film authorities and trade associations in Germany and Italy.
Orange’s partnership on MyFrenchFilmFestival is an early initiative in Africa. Last year, UniFrance published a study, “Providing Opportunities for French Cinema in French-speaking Africa.” According to its findings, 50% of the 220 million French-speaking people around the world come from Africa, a figure predicted to reach 85% by 2050, with GDP set to multiply by 15 between 2020 and 2040, per World Bank estimates.
“Africa is a huge market, but lacks cinema theaters,” said Salomé. Algeria, for example, has just seven screens.
French companies have initiated exhibition ventures in Africa. But “The future of French cinema distribution lies in digital. We’d like to work with Orange and other VOD platforms” to develop new distribution initiatives, Giordano observed.
“We’re very concerned about multiplex access” over much of the world, Giordano added. Euro film/TV group Studiocanal and UniFrance both presented a line-up of trailers at June’s CineEurope in Barcelona to the rank and file of European exhibitors. Per Giordano, an exhibition trade fair slot creates a great buzz on Facebook and Twitter. “People start asking: ‘Have you seen the French lineup this year?’”
UniFrance has met with early success establishing a direct alliance with a European exhibitor, UCI in Italy, part of Europe’s biggest cinema chain. Investing €10,000 ($12,000) in P & A coin on French films released in a UCI multiplex across a minimum seven Italian cities, and screened for not less than two weeks, UniFrance saw “Blue Is the Warmest Color,” distribbed by Andrea Occhpinti’s Lucky Red, punch $2 million in Italy, double its B.O. trawls in U.K., Germany and Spain. In 2014, French movies grossed €36.0 million ($43.2 million) in Italy, their third biggest market in Europe. “This is an experiment. Italy is still a very important market for French films. We can’t do it everywhere because it’s very expensive, a budgetary question,” Giordano commented.
“We are very keen for French companies to buy cinemas outside France,” said Xavier Lardoux, UniFrance deputy managing director, citing MK2’s acquisition in 2014 of Cinesur, southern Spain’s biggest cinema theater loop.
UniFrance has organized a work group including Nathanael Karmitz’s MK2, UGC, Pathé and Gaumont to shape a proposal to France’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs turning on the construction of cinema theaters in international markets.
Salomé has visited China six times in two years, accompanying top French film execs. French distribution in China will be determined by larger diplomatic entente but. UniFrance’s aim is to ease distribution quotas for French films.
The promotion org faces challenges nearer to home as well. “We have to talk to producers, agents, to persuade talent to support releases not only in New York but also, for example, Germany, which is a huge market. Isabelle Huppert has understood that. She owes her standing to that in part,” Salomé said.
Meanwhile, many pubcasters across Europe are buying less French films, indeed, fewer films from other European countries in general. Working with other French trade associations, “Our aim is to construct a three-way alliance with Germany and Italy” to draw up a consensus policy and lobby the new European Commission on this matter, Salomé said, “UniFrance’s responsibility is not only to defend our movies but also the French film funding system which is the best in Europe.”
Salome, Giordano and Lardoux spoke to Variety at Paris’ 17th UniFrance Rendez-vous with French Cinema. Rendez-vous attendance is up 9% by 50 distributors to 600 buyers in attendance, said Lardoux. Films screened is slightly down, however, hit by lower production volumes in France.