Thanks to glamorous Paris-set shows like “Lupin” and “Emily in Paris” topping Netflix charts — and daring French female directors Julia Ducournau (“Titane”) and Audrey Diwan (“Happening”) winning top prizes at the Cannes and Venice film festivals — France drew more eyeballs worldwide in 2021 than it has in years. A groundbreaking agreement with global streamers to invest up to €300 million ($333 million) in French content looks to continue that trend. And building on all that momentum, the government is splashing soft money to help French creatives and locations conquer international markets, with a focus on the U.S.
In the streaming era, where language barriers and borders are more permeable, creatives are becoming go-to ambassadors, as evidenced recently by French President Emmanuel Macron’s massive investment scheme, France 2030, which looks to revitalize the country’s industrial sectors, including the film and audiovisual industries. One initiative stemming from the mandate, which targets €600 million for culture, is Villa Albertine, which hosts a U.S.-wide residency for creatives ranging from filmmakers to contemporary artists, VR creators and architects. The program is primarily backed by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs, with support from the culture minister and the National Film Board (CNC), as well as private donors.
“It was time for us to acknowledge the primary importance of the U.S. for the arts and ideas,” says Gaëtan Bruel, director of Villa Albertine. “It’s a formidable market and a launchpad for French creatives to shine around the world, including in France. It’s striking to see how our artists often need to make their marks in the U.S. to be better acknowledged in France.” Bruel pointed that France’s old model of financing culture through public ressources dates back to the the 17th century with the creation of the Académie de France in Rome.
The inaugural edition of the Villa Albertine residency selected “Gagarine” filmmakers Fanny Liatard and Jérémy Trouilh; Tunisian helmer Kaouther Ben Hania (“The Man Who Sold His Skin”); Marine Brutti, Jonathan Debrouwer and Arthur Harel from the artists and directors collective (La) Horde; and French-Senegalese director Alain Gomis, whose 2017 film “Félicité” won Berlin’s Silver Bear, among others. Ben Hania, Liatard and Trouilh are developing science-fiction films, while Gomis is working on a film about American jazz icon Thelonious Monk and studied locations linked to the history of jazz in New York and Chicago during his residency. Liatard and Trouilh, meanwhile, spent three months exploring communities on the outskirts of New York.
“Since the start of the pandemic there seems to be a deeper interest from U.S. agents for rising European filmmakers who’ve had their movies play well at festivals like Cannes,” says “Gagarine” producer Julie Billy, who’s co-developing Liatard and Trouilh’s next project. “But often, French filmmakers waste a lot of time pitching projects in L.A. and not much happens; when it does they struggle to impose their creative visions,” said Billy, who noted that it’s also difficult to finance ambitious English language movies out of France.
Villa Albertine could be a game changer by giving French talent the opportunity to gain first-hand experience and knowledge in the U.S. — a luxury that independent producers can seldom afford at the early stages of development, says Billy.
Brutti, Debrouwer and Harel, who founded (La) Horde a decade ago and have been selling out shows at prestigious venues worldwide, say the collective looked to “build bridges between the U.S. and France.”
Along with heading the National Ballet of Marseille, (La) Horde recently ventured into a hybrid filmmaking project with “Spring Breakers” producer David Zander and Spike Jonze, the Oscar-winning writer-director-producer of “Her.” “The U.S. breeds some of the most vibrant subcultures,” notes the group, which recently returned from a one-month stay in New York and Los Angeles with Villa Albertine.
The members add that the U.S. has “been ahead of the curve with gender studies, and gave birth to progressive movements, from Black Lives Matter to #MeToo.”
(La) Horde, which weaves live performances with installations and art films, has also been “inspired by the unabashedly entertaining nature of American movies, notably musical comedies, but also in thrillers or action movies that are often marked by highly physical performances,” say the trio.
Mathieu Fournet, former audiovisual attaché at the French consulate in L.A. and New York, who now heads European and international affairs at the CNC, says the best thing about Villa Albertine is that it doesn’t champion only French artists but rather international talent that’s supported by French schemes.
“That’s how soft power works,” Fournet says. “Half of Cannes’ competition [titles end up being] movies tied to France.”
France is also set to preside over the Council of the European Union starting on Jan. 1 for a duration of six months. Under this rule, France will spearhead ten sectors, including culture and will also have budgetary powers to adopt and amend the European budget with the Parliament.
“Helming the Council of the E.U. will give us the opportunity to embolden European culture with the new impulse it needs,” said Nathanael Karmitz, CEO of MK2 which runs a film studio and an arthouse cinema chain in France and Spain.