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As local sales agents retool their festival strategies to better fit the moment, UniFrance has launched a parallel-track plan, rethinking its own initiatives throughout the year.

“I think everyone hoped for a return to normalcy a little bit sooner than where we are now,” says UniFrance executive director Daniela Elstner. “Now we see that it will not happen as quickly as we hoped, and we have to act.”

Because limits on international travel have left the organization unable to organize and sponsor global French cinema delegations with the same heft as in years past, the promotional body has looked to expand its digital footprint outside the festival corridor.

“Festivals and markets, even those entirely online, can help many sales agents,” says Elstner. “But we don’t have those same imperatives. We want to avoid putting too much focus on one single moment in time. We need to be there at all times; to have a permanent, online presence.”

With that in mind, the organization will continue the series of digital roundtables it launched earlier this summer, tackling specific issues affecting the international supply chain aimed at a global audience, and will offer its 10 to watch honorees a more robust public platform throughout the year.

“Instead of simply following and promoting those talents, we want to make them ambassadors of French cinema,” Elstner says. “That means putting them front and center in videos that ask [questions about the industry, such as] how one can turn a short into a feature, or what is the value of a Cannes 2020 label?”

The promotional body also believes it has a symbolic role to play in the push to get French films back where they belong.

“A lot of these videos inviting people to come back to the cinema are shot in people’s homes, with books or posters in the background,” Elstner says.

“I tell our partners to come shoot in our screening room, because I think we need to project an image of French cinema that exists and belongs in theaters. Doing so resituates the film and artist within the environment in which their film will be projected; it sends an unconscious message about value and durability of the theatrical experience.”

When it comes to one of UniFrance’s Rendezvous with French Cinema, the January market/press junket that hosts more than 100 visiting journalists, the director holds little illusions.

“Saying that we’ll do it normally next year is not possible,” she says. “It will have to be a hybrid event, clearly. But I’d like to maintain, as much as possible, a physical component. I do not think we should focus on 100% digital solutions. That would be contrary to everything the rendezvous has fostered in terms of human contact.”

As the organization waits to see what the next months may bring and tries to plan accordingly, its director recognizes that some elements have shifted for good.
“Not everything will go back to as it once was, and that’s not so bad,” she says. “We won’t get out of this by doing as we did two years ago. What’s more, that’s not even desirable.”