Daniela Elstner, one of France’s top sales executives, has been named managing director of UniFrance, the French film promotion body which is dedicated to fast-tracking the export of local films and talent pool.

Elstner’s nomination was proposed by UniFrance president Serge Toubiana, who was reelected last Thursday for a second two-year term, and approved unanimously by the organisation’s executive committee. Elstner is succeeding to French film journalist Isabelle Giordano who is officially leaving the org at the end of the month following a six-year tenure.

The German-born Elstner has been spearheading the Paris-based sales company Doc & Film International since 2008 as managing director and shareholder. Under her leadership, the outfit has represented films by Chantal Akerman, Jacques Doillon, Nicolas Philibert and Bruno Dumont, among other auteurs, in international markets. The company has also been handling politically- and socially-minded movies and documentaries such as Gianfranco Rosi’s “Fire at Sea” about the ordeal of migrants, and Adina Pintilie’s daring film “Touch Me Not,” both of which won the Berlin Golden Bear Award.

Elstner also worked for a decade alongside veteran producer Margaret Menegoz at Les Films du Losange where she handled films by Éric Rohmer, Barbet Schroeder, Jacques Rivette and Michael Haneke, among others.

The well-respected and outspoken executive, who is due to step down from Doc & Film to dedicate herself to UniFrance, has also been on the forefront of lobbying efforts as president of ADEF (the guild for sales agents) and played a key role in obtaining some subsidy and loan schemes for companies exporting films.

Elstner’s appointment marks the first time UniFrance has a sales executive at the helm. Her deep knowledge of dealmaking, sales and distribution strategies, as well as her relationship with traditional distributors and streamers alike is perceived as a big bonus for professionals.

Toubiana described Elstner as a “major figure of the French film sales sector who is being recognised (…) for her knowledge of the industry and her international network.”

“With (Elstner) and all of UniFrance’s teams, the organization gives itself the means to face the challenges that French cinema professionals have to overcome around the world in order to keep defending the interests of films, artists, producers and all our members,” said Toubiana, who previously ran the French Cinematheque.

Without naming Netflix, Amazon and other streaming services, Toubiana noted that the sales sector was in the midst of a “full evolution and (was) more competitive than ever.” 2018 was a tough year for the export of French films whose overseas box office revenue plummeted by 51% to €237 million, according to UniFrance.

The org, which celebrated its 70th anniversary this year at the Cannes Film Festival, puts together dozens of events promoting French films and talents. Among these are the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in Paris; the Rendez-Vous with French Cinema in New York which is organized in tandem with the Film Society of Lincoln Center; and the French Film Festival in Yokohama.