PARIS — 2018’s Paris UniFrance Rendez-Vous with French Cinema celebrates two anniversaries: It is the 20th anniversary of an event which, founded by Daniel Toscan du Plantier, then UniFrance head, has inspired other national cinema showcases around Europe. Second, in 2008, many distributors caught Dany Boon’s “Welcome to the Sticks” at the Rendez-Voys as a guilty pleasure. It went on to gross millions not only inside but outside France. Since then, the Rendez-Vous has become a platform for the best in French comedy, though it still boasts a strong line in first features, period dramas and rare but often arresting genre. Variety spike to Serge Toubiana, heading into his first Paris Rendez-Vous as UniFrance president, and Isabelle Giordano, UniFrance executive director, about the highlights and challenges for the Rendez-vous and French cinema at large.
The UniFrance Rendez-Vous turns 20 this year. Will there be any special events to celebrate its 20th edition?
Giordano: A party on Jan. 20 with a focus on innovation and French savoir faire (VR, 3D, VFX, animation …). It’s important for us with this 20th edition to look to the future, to insist on technological innovation. The party will have a presentation of some of the best innovations, excerpts from animation movies, clips, trailers, VR demos.
Some 70% of film prizes at the European Animation Awards went to French productions. Not necessarily films by French directors, but yes French productions. Europe’s animation is attracting more and more interest, which could lead to priority support, from the European Union.
Giordano: Exactly! This edition will highlight our leadership. We are really good at animation, VFX and VR. If people ask: What is French cinema today? The answer is; beyond innovative.
Animation is also one of the most successful genres in terms of theatrical cinema-going.
At a time when the industry, or at least its business press, is questioning the future of some film markets, nobody is questioning the future of the UniFrance Paris Rendez-Vous…
Giordano: For French cinema it’s a very special market, second only to Cannes in terms of the number of the number of movies, French film exporters and distributors attending. Most are from Europe but each year we accept people from Asia, particularly South-East Asia, which is an emerging market, Australia, and one-or-two from the U.S. We want to invite big studios and executives from Amazon, Netflix and other platforms. But, for them to attend, we’d have to choose dates that don’t overlap with Sundance…
Toubiana: It’s the first time I’ll attend the Rendez-Vous, and I’m learning how Isabelle and all the UniFrance team manage such a big event. One thing we must do is bet on what cinema will be in the next 10 years. What we do know are the options in terms of digital distribution, VFX, animation, VR, and the Rendez-Vous has to be an important platform for this.
Regarding digital platforms, would you see one of the roles going forward of UniFrance to establish a dialogue with digital platforms on the distribution of French cinema?
Giordano: It already exists! Sales agents deal with the platforms regularly. UniFrance has been talking to Netflix and Amazon for several years, and we like this kind of dialogue. Amazon and Netflix both have a lot of French films – this is the good news. The problem is, we don’t know who the viewers are, or how many we have. We don’t have enough info about how they distribute the movies. We hope to get this info in the coming years.
We can’t ignore that nowadays a lot of French films are seen by audiences all over the world on digital platforms. When I travel to the U.S. and U.K., I can see that there are so many cities where there is only one theater that doesn’t release French films. The distribution on platforms is key now.
One hallowed tradition of the Rendez-vous is the presentation of the cumulative box office figures for French films outside France in the prior year. It seems symptomatic that the Top 3 are likely to be a Luc Besson film, “Valerian,” an animated feature, “Leap,” aka “Ballerina,” and a comedy, “Two Is Family”.
Giordano: Yes, it’s symbolic of the strength of French cinema, but when you look beyond, to the Top 5 or Top 10, you can see why French cinema is successful. We have big groups, but we have also more mid-level producers and sales agents that are very strong like Wild Bunch, Kinology or Memento who do big things.
French comedy, moreover, is still strong, the genre that performs best. This is the reason why we created a new prize: the UniFrance Comedy Prize at Alpe d’Huez Comedy Festival, which goes to Hugo Gelin, for “Two is a Family.”
Serge Toubiana: Comedies are a genre of the future, if screenplays and stories are at once local and universal. Often French and German comedies are made for home markets. What gave the films of Philippe de Broca and Truffaut their force in the ‘70s was that they were made for everyone. We have to rediscover this universal taste and make comedies for the whole world.
International markets are evolving at a tremendous and dizzying pace where box office in China on one film can be more than box office in the world on a companies’ other films. What are UniFrance’s main initiatives with China and you plan more?
Giordano: China is still a very difficult market for French films. The main problem is censorship. Our main support-thrust is helping French films get better exposure at the Peking and Shanghai festivals. But China is a very complicated market in terms of audience. It’s mostly young people that want action and visual effects.
French sales agents are happy to work with China. They sell the movies, but they frequently go straight to TV or VOD. We expect more of this, and possible co-productions as well.
Our strategy is first to deal with the Chinese authorities to get better distribution. Chinese movies released in France have very good exposure. There is a very good Chinese film festival on the Champs Elisee. We would like a degree of reciprocity. But we are aware it’s complex and not an El Dorado.
What are UniFrance’s main goals for 2018?
Giordano: The main goal is to find new markets and seduce the audience. Serge has great experience with those groups from La Cinemateque.
And 2018 will be digital! International promotion has to be more for digital. We have to find new ways to work well with platforms such as Amazon, and Netflix.
Jamie Lang contributed with this article