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As financing shrinks for auteur cinema and the race to access strong projects intensifies, French sales agents and producers are diversifying and internationalizing their businesses.

A decade ago, only French powerhouses like EuropaCorp, Pathe, Gaumont and Studiocanal were involved in English-language projects with cast attached. Now, there’s several medium-size French producers and sales agents who are involved in high-profile English-language projects and are seeking to expand their footprints abroad.

Nicolas Brigaud Robert, co-founder of Films Distribution, which has Francois Ozon’s “Frantz” playing at Toronto’s Special Presentation and Katell Quillévéré’s “Heal the Living” competing at Toronto’s second edition of Platform, says this internationalization trend stems the weakening of local film industries and public funding sources.

“Most films no longer get financed in their country of origin, which is why producers are more and more relying on co-production and international sales to raise [funds],” explains Brigaud-Robert, who is now co-producing select projects such as “Sunset,” the sophomore outing of Laszlo Nemes, who won an Oscar this year for “Son of Saul.”

Adds Brigaud-Robert, “What happened to Metrodome and Fortissimo is symptomatic: The market is contracting, it’s more competitive, and at the same time, many high-profile auteurs can’t get their films financed so the pressure is on sales agents’ shoulders — they’re being asked to find most of the financing and put large minimum guarantees to board films that puts them at risk because the truth is, nearly every foreign market is cash-strapped and there is no Eldorado of international sales.”

Speaking of branching out overseas, Films Distribution — whose mini-empire already includes B for Films in Belgium and Films Boutique in Germany — recently invested in Fabien Westerhoff’s London-based sales outfit Film Constellation.

“The line between sales and production is blurring as producers seek foreign partners to finance their movies and sales agents look to board projects at an earlier stage and get more upside,” says Gilles Renouard, co-managing director at Unifrance.

Case in point: One of France’s hottest producers, Charles Gillibert, who has Olivier Assayas’s “Personal Shopper” with Kristen Stewart playing in Toronto’s Masters section, recently launched a sales company, Alma Cinema, while he’s still working with third-party sales agents for select films such as Deniz Erguven’s L.A. riot pic with Daniel Craig and Halle Berry that require a significant minimum guarantee.

Gillibert says getting into international sales allowed him to finance his films more efficiently and have a stronger, more global foothold on the market which is essential since he’s working with filmmakers like Assayas, one of the few French auteurs who truly have an international profile.

“International sales represent roughly 50% of the financing of Assayas’ films, from ‘Sils Maria’ to ‘Personal Shopper,’ ” points out Gillibert.

Meanwhile, Indie Sales, the outfit launched by former TF1 exec Nicolas Eschbach and producer Eric Nevé, is getting ready to launch a production vehicle. Indie Sales previously co-produced Stefano Sollima’s mafia thriller “Suburra,” while Nevé produced Daouda Coulibaly’s Malian crime thriller “Wulu,” which plays at Toronto’s Discovery. The outfit also has “Tamara & The Ladybug,” “The Giant” and “My Life as a Courgette” playing at Toronto.

Memento, which specializes in arthouse films and is divided into a sales banner (ran by Emilie Georges and Tanja Meissner) and distribution (ran by Alexandre Mallet-Guy), is also getting into production and is said to be considering the launch of a U.S. office. The outfit co-produced Asghar Farhadi’s “The Salesman,” which won two awards in Cannes and is playing at Toronto in the Special Presentation section; and is co-producing and selling the Iranian helmer’s next film with Penelope Cruz.

Bac Films is another medium-size company that is ramping up co-production and co-financing activities to board appealing British or U.S. projects with festival pedigree and commercial potential. Following “Like Crazy,” the Paris-based company is for instance re-teaming with Italian director Paolo Virzi on “The Leisure Seeker” with Helen Mirren and Donald Sutherland. On top of selling it, Bac boarded the project at script stage and is co-producing, co-financing and handling worldwide sales on it.

“We’re going through a big transition time and there’s so much competition to scoop top films — big companies are consolidating and medium-size outfits like Bac have to work like multi-tool knives and board projects at all stages, co-produce as well as source projects overseas,” said Bac Films CEO David Grumbach, who is currently considering launching a division abroad.

Yet, over at Le Pacte, which has Arnaud des Pallières’s “Orphan” playing at Toronto’s Special Presentation and Joachim Lafosse’s “After Love” in the Contemporary World Cinema section, Camille Neel, the company’s head of sales, says the appeal for French-language auteur dramas is still alive.

“Even if it’s a full-on drama shot in French, ‘After Love’ sold well because of the cast (led by Berenice Bejo) and the director: Lafosse is a well-established auteur with a track record with family dramas; and above all, it’s a classic French drama that’s easily marketable for distributors and has a clear target audience,” says Neel.

If anything, says UniFrance’s managing director Isabelle Giordano, “French sales agents and producers’ broadening perspectives and international ambitions are enriching French cinema, giving a multi-cultural profile and encouraging filmmakers to tackle contemporary topics that cross borders.”