Unifrance Event Spotlights New Generation of French Filmmakers Alongside Veterans

Planetarium Venice
Courtesy of Venice Film Festival

The Rendez-vous With French Cinema in New York, co-organized by the Film Society of Lincoln Center and French film export organization Unifrance, is a key annual meet between the French and U.S. film industries.

Now in its 22nd edition, it’s one of Unifrance’s longest-running French cinema showcases, which screens new films from established and upcoming talent and trends in French cinema, accompanied by the filmmakers and sales agents. Event runs March 1-12.

Over half of the 23 films screening this year already have U.S. distribution deals in place and aim to create buzz among film critics and audiences, while the rest are looking for distributors.

“We aim to increase the visibility of French cinema and thereby boost film exports,” says Unifrance director-general, Isabelle Giordano. “We’re here to support our sales agents.”

North America is a key overseas market for French films and contributes around 20% of total exports.

After a slide from 111 million foreign admissions worldwide in 2015 to 34 million admissions in 2016, primarily due to the absence of blockbuster films that can travel well, such as “Taken 3” and “The Little Prince,” Unifrance expects significant recovery in 2017, driven in part by new voices emerging in French cinema.

Giordano believes that the actress Oscar nomination for Isabelle Huppert in “Elle,” which also won a Golden Globe, will also provide a further boost for French cinema in 2017.

A delegation of around 50 leading French directors, actors, producers and sales agents will attend the event, including established helmers such as François Ozon (“Frantz”), Olivier Assayas (“Personal Shopper”), and Bruno Dumont (“Slack Bay”), plus emerging talent such as Julia Ducournau (“Raw”), Rebecca Zlotowski (“Planetarium,” starring Natalie Portman), and Katell Quillévéré (“Heal the Living”).

Eleven French sales agents will also attend, including Wild Bunch, Gaumont, Le Pacte, Films Distribution, Pathe, and Bac Films.

Sales agents will mingle with U.S. distributors at a business lunch on March 2, with confirmed guests including the Cohen Media Group, IFC, Kino Lorber, GKids, Grasshopper Films, Mubi, Tribeca Film Festival, Zeitgeist, Music Box, Magnolia, and Bleecker Street.

“All the key American buyers will be at the lunch, with over 40 professionals attending,” says Giordano. “It’s quite informal, but in the past has paved the way to deals being signed at the end of the Rendez-vous.”

Another key industry event is a panel dedicated to French-American co-productions, moderated by Eugene Hernandez of the Film Society of Lincoln Center, and featuring Parts & Labor’s Jay Van Hoy, Killer Films’ David Hinojosa, Kinology’s Gaelle Mareschi, Nathan Silver (“Thirst Street”), and Les Films du Bélier’s Justin Taurand.

Taurand, who produced Quillévéré’s “Heal the Living,” says that U.S.-French co-productions are hampered by the absence of a co-production treaty. He nonetheless secured a small equity stake in “Heal” from New York’s Ezekiel Film Production.

Taurand will be visiting the Rendez-vous for the first time and plans to work with Cohen Media for the mid-April release of “Heal the Living.”

“Getting a U.S. theatrical release for a French film is quite rare and the Rendezvous is an excellent opportunity to build visibility for our films,” he says.

“The new generation of French producers doesn’t just think about France. They’re targeting a global audience” says Giordano, who adds that an excellent example of a U.S.-French co-production is the Academy Award-nominated documentary “I Am Not Your Negro,” directed by Raoul Peck, head of France’s Femis film school.

Many French helmers are migrating into TV series, and an episode from miniseries “Call My Agent!” will screen at the event.
Giordano says Unifrance has an increasing number of joint initiatives with France’s TV export agency, TV France Intl., and aims to build further synergies between French film and TV in future editions.

She also aims to use the Rendez-vous to increase links with digital platforms, leveraged by Unifrance’s online event, My French Film Festival, which just wrapped with a record number of views.

“We already have very good relationship with iTunes, Google Play, and Amazon for our online festival, which already has more than 6 million views. In New York I will meet with executives from these platforms, to reinforce our digital strategy and online visibility.”