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France’s Mars Films Put Under Court-Ordered Financial Restructuring, Plans to Focus on Production & Scales Down Distribution (EXCLUSIVE)

Mars Films

Mars Films, a leading French distribution company that released American indie films such as Oscar winners “12 Years a Slave” and “Moonlight” in France, has been put under financial restructuring and monitoring for six months by a business court in Paris.

The company, which has 23 employees, went into receivership Aug. 1 after it stopped paying creditors. Mars Films has an annual revenue of €36.8 million and a debt of €78.6 million, including more than €20 millions in current liabilities, according to court documents filed earlier this month. Headed by Stephane Celerier and Valerie Garcia, Mars Films was rescued from financial struggles once before, in 2015, by Vivendi, which took a 30% stake in the company.

In spite of its large debts, Mars boasts a strong library of more than 200 films among its assets, which together are worth a total of €107.3 million, according to the court documents. While it’s under financial restructuring, the company will proceed with the release in France of Woody Allen’s “A Rainy Day in New York” on Sept. 18, and has four other films on its slate.

Although the company did well this year with select French films such as the Berlin Silver Bear-winning “By the Grace of God” and “Love at Second Sight,” some high-profile English-language releases, including Xavier Dolan’s “The Death and Life of John F. Donovan” and the Oscar-nominated “Vice,” fell short. “Vice” is one of the prestige films that Mars released under its deal with Annapurna Pictures, which has itself been going though a rough financial patch.

In the last five years, Mars began co-producing and producing films, including Eric Lartigau’s “La Famille Bélier” and Hugo Gelin’s feel-good “Two Is a Family,” both of which were big successes locally and traveled well. But the company suffered many setbacks, with several pricey movies acquired at premium prices that underperformed in France’s crowded distribution landscape in the last two years.

Going forward, Mars Films will shift its focus from distribution to production, mainly feel-good films like “La Famille Belier” and “Two Is a Family,” Celerier told Variety. The company will scale down its distribution slate by half and will be releasing up to 10 films per year, including in-house productions, co-productions and third-party acquisitions of French and foreign films. Next year’s distribution roster is comprised of a handful of films, notably Viggo Mortensen’s feature debut “Falling.”

“Our strong track record as producers has encouraged us to focus our activity on making movies – that’s where we can make use of our creativity and the relationships with talent and filmmakers that we’ve developed through the years,” he said. “When you’re a distributor, you have to take a gamble on others’ creativity, and when you’re a producer, you bank on your own creativity.”

Celerier said Mars Films is now looking for investors to come on board the company as it concentrates on production.

The crisis at Mars underscores the difficulties faced by French distributors from the declining commercial potential of French movies in theaters, as well as the fact that local TV channels have cut back on buying non-European films. That has made it nearly impossible for distributors to compensate for poor box office in secondary markets, a veteran film financier told Variety.

Celerier said that distributors have also been hurt by streamers in France. “Our industry has been rocked by the launch of streaming services, which has led to an overabundant supply of scripted content and changed the way people consume this content. It’s a completely new world, and it’s crucial for us to adapt our model to these changes,” Celerier said.

EuropaCorp stopped its distribution business earlier this year. Previously, MK2 also stopped its distribution activities in France to focus on its thriving exhibition and international sales business.

Along with Metropolitan Filmexport and ARP Selection, Mars Films was one of the last remaining key purveyors of independent U.S. movies in France. Besides “12 Years a Slave” and “Moonlight,” its biggest successes include “Captain Fantastic,” “Midnight in Paris,” “Spring Breakers” and “Amy.” With the company pulling out of distribution almost completely, there won’t be many outfits left in France willing to splurge for local rights to those films.