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UniFrance, Miami Festival’s Third Mercado Lures Top Latin American Distributors, French Sales Agents

Top Latin American distributors ranging from Brazil’s Imovision to Mexico’s Cinepolis and Colombia’s Babilla Cine flocked to the third edition of the Mercado del Cine Frances, a mini-market jointly launched by promotion organization UniFrance and Miami Film Festival.

Spearheaded by UniFrance’s executives Gilles Renouard and Delphine Martin, the three-day initiative which kicked off March 10, was created to connect French sales agents from key banners such as Studiocanal, Gaumont, Playtime, Bac Films, Pyramide, Charades and Loco Films, with Latin American distributors outside of a major festival to forge ties and encourage dealmaking.

Like other initiatives organized by UniFrance in Paris, New York, Seoul and Tokyo, several French films were showcased as part of the event, including Xavier Legrand’s “Custody,” Michel Hazanavicius’s “Redoutable” (pictured), Marc Dugain’s “The Royal Exchange,” Olivier Ayache-Vidal’s “The Teacher” and Agnes Jaoui’s “Place Publique.”

Jaie Laplante, Miami film festival’s executive director and director of programming, pointed out, “French cinema has strong roots in Latin America,” and said the collaboration with UniFrance has “allowed the festival to develop deeper relationships with French sales agents who come here to show their slate and in turn we are able to attract the biggest Latin American distributors.”

Laplante added that French cinema culture was beloved in Miami, a Francophile city between U.S. and Latin America and whose Hispanic population continues to increase.

Last year, French movies grossed an estimated 36 million euros from 10.5 million tickets sold across 18 Latin American territories, driven not only by English-language fare such as Luc Besson’s “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” but also comedies like “Un Profil Pour Deux” with Pierre Richard and edgy genre pics such as Julia Ducournau’s “Raw,” according to a report compiled by UniFrance.

Admissions in Latin America represented a 13% market share of all tickets sold for Gallic films abroad in 2017. Mexico still ranked as Latin America’s biggest purveyor of French movies, followed by Brazil and Colombia.

“French-language films are extremely popular in Mexico — as many as 35 French movies were released in Mexico in 2017 and they ranked third in terms of market share behind American blockbusters and local films, as they often do,” said Miguel Rivera, VP of programming at Cinepolis, a theater chain established across Latin America as well as India, Spain and the U.S..

Cinepolis stepped into distribution three years ago and Rivera said the company was also considering diving into co-production due to the increasingly competitive landscape in Latin America. Citing streaming services such as Netflix as well as the flurry of local distributors, Riviera said it had become crucial to board appealing projects at an earlier stage.

Cinepolis also operates its own VOD service, Kinepolis Klic, which is a partner of MyFrenchFilmFestival, UniFrance’s online film festival.

French sales agents have also gained a solid reputation among Latin American distributors such as Cinepolis. “French sellers are able to deal with sophisticated markets in Europe as well as in Japan and Korea; and they’re also connected to major festivals like Berlin and Cannes,” argued Riviera.

In Mexico, Gallic films owe their popularity in large parts to the French Film Tour Festival which is organized by Nueva Era Films and takes place all year around in Mexico and Central America. The festival sold as many as 337,000 tickets in Mexico alone and 21, 800 tickets in Central America.

Dominique Ollivier, who is head of acquisition for both Nueva Era Films and the French Film Tour, said the festival has helped broaden the appeal of French films, in particular comedies which have become highly popular in Mexico since the success of “The Intouchables” with Omar Sy.

“We’ve worked hard to make French films seem more accessible to wide audiences,” explained Ollivier, whose recent acquisitions include comedies like Grand Corps Malade’s “Step by Step” (“Patients”), Maurice Barthélemy’s “Les ex” and Philippe Le Guay’s “Normandie Nue.” Ollivier, who is one of the rare women working in acquisition in Latin American, said films which perform best at the French Film Tour are not necessarily movies that have big-name stars and had a high B.O. gross in France.

“Nowadays, moviegoers are most interested in getting entertained and laugh no matter who stars in the film,” said Ollivier.

Also attending the Mercado, Federico Mejía Guinand, who runs Babilla Ciné, one of Colombia’s top film groups, said independent distributors are now often squeezed between distributors who operate across multiple Latin American territories and global streamers who can buy pan-regional rights. Aiming to be more competitive and give independent movies a better exposure, Babilla Ciné has recently launched a multiplex in Bogota.

“Getting into exhibition was crucial to ensure a greater diversity in films shown — 95% of movies that play in Colombian theaters are U.S. films, and eight out of ten independent, non-U.S. films which come out fail at the box office because they’re removed from theaters too quicky,” said Mejía Guinand, who is also looking to start co-producing local and international movies. His current slate includes this year’s foreign-language Oscar winner, “A Fantastic Woman.”

In Brazil, Jean-Thomas Bernardini who presides the country’s leading distribution company Imovision, said his 27-year old outfit released 21 French films in 2017. “French movies tend to represent between 60% and 70% of our lineup. “We work well with French films because they usually have high production values, identifiable casting and many people in Brazil are familiar with the language, in particular mature audiences because learning French used to be mandatory in Brazil,” said Bernardini.

Echoing Ollivier, Bernardini said that Brazilian filmgoers are more and more lured by comedies and feelgood movies. “Even a film which has won prizes in festival won’t do so well in Brazil if it’s too serious — people no longer go to the movie theaters to watch movies that have a strong social or political stance,” explained Bernardini.

Bernardini, who also owns a multiplex in Saõ Paulo and Rio, said the performance of European arthouse films was declining in Brazil, partly due to the proliferation of streaming services. Bernardini said Imovision will soon launch its own VOD service once lawmakers will lower the tax on VOD sales which only applies to local players and not U.S. services. The distribution veteran believes theatrical and VOD releases can work hand-in-hand.

Over at Miami’s Mercado, Bernardini finalized the acquisition of Agnès Jaoui’s smart ensemble comedy “Place Publique” that Le Pacte is selling.

Rivera, who had back to back meetings at the Mercado, said the event “is very well timed before Cannes” to “potentially discover gems in the run up to the festival.”

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