Following Cannes, the AFM, Toronto, Rome and the Hong Kong’s Filmart, UniFrance’s Rendez-Vous With French Cinema was for many film players at least the sixth virtual market since the start of the pandemic, but it was still a much-needed kick-off for French sales agents who launched a flurry of projects and market premieres during the event.

The Rendez-Vous started Jan. 12 with an industry day featuring panels discussing the current landscape for film sales, distribution and festivals with key players, and hosted virtual screenings at set times for 67 movies, including 30 market premieres through Jan. 15. Virtual press junkets also took place with French stars and filmmakers whose movies were screening. The event gathered 875 film executives compared with 450 during previous editions since it was open to all international buyers (rather than only Europeans), and 41 French sales companies. Eric Besnard’s 18th-century-set drama “Delicieux,” sold by SND, started the UniFrance screenings on Jan. 13.

Despite the Zoom fatigue, the industry players and talent who took part in the virtual event found it stimulating, and in some cases even good business-wise, said Daniela Elstner, the managing director of UniFrance. “We felt an immense enthusiasm from everyone, sales agents, buyers and talent, who were eager to exchange, open up, feel each other’s warmth. We had a blast,” said the executive, who added that the lack of visibility over the first semester of 2021 has also made industry executives, as well as creatives, more willing to embrace the virtual format and make the best of it for the time being.

In addition to the virtual screenings, the org also put together with independent theaters 78 “physical” screenings across six countries and nine cities, notably Moscow, Brussels, Rome, Munich, Madrid and Barcelona for accredited buyers. These worked well, according to several sales agents. “The physical screenings brought us a lot of offers,” said Olivier Albou at Other Angle. He said the company for instance received five offers from Spain on Christopher Thompson’s romantic comedy “The Butcher’s Daughter” after the film screened in Barcelona. “Nothing beats an actual screening with buyers all there in one place; it creates an emulation amongst distributors, and it’s just more enjoyable,” said Albou, who added that buyers would often ask for screeners prior to the pandemic pretexting a lack of time, but now that movie theaters are closed in most places they were grateful to go to a screening, watch the films on a big screen and mingle with their peers.

Each sales company was able to each introduce their lineup to buyers via a 15-minute prerecorded virtual presentation. Gregoire Melin at Kinology, which launched four new movies – Aino Suni’s “A Girl’s Room,” Catherine Corsini’s “The Divide,” Jacques Doillon’s “Third Grade” and Denis Dercourt’s “Morning Calm” – at the market, said the virtual Rendez-Vous fulfilled the market’s primary mission, which is to help sales agents tease projects to buyers before Berlin and Cannes. “It wasn’t different from a traditional Rendez-Vous in that distributors turned up, and we were able to introduce our projects, and tell them our plans for the big festivals to come, notably Cannes Film Festival, where we expect to have a presence.” Kinology is repping Leos Carax’s “Annette” with Marion Cotillard and Adam Driver, among others.

Orange Studio also launched four new films at the market, including Sophie Boudre’s socially-minded comedy “Un Petit Miracle,” which is produced by “Coda” producer Philippe Rousselet at Vendome Films, and is inspired by a true story about a heroic school teacher who relocates her class to a retirement home after the school burns down. The film will start shooting in late February.

“We’ve received a lot of interest from buyers with our lineup,” said Daniel Marquet, head of sales at Orange Studio. “It went well, we had lots of Zoom meetings with buyers across the whole world and we managed to seal deals that we had started negotiating during the American Film Market in November.”

He said the company sent out about a hundred scripts for each project. “Buyers all did their homework prior to the start of the market. That said we got a sense that they are being cautious about purchasing any new films because they already have many movies on the shelves, which they can’t release yet,” said the veteran executive.

Marquet said medium-sized and smaller independent distributors, who are the most impacted by the pandemic, are being especially cautious with finished films, but will still go for the safer bets, the easily-marketable films. For instance, “Serial (Bad) Weddings 3,” the third instalment of the comedy blockbuster francise has been selling.

The exec said that buyers were still looking more closely at European projects due to the fact that they at least have more visibility over when the films will shoot and be delivered, in contrast with U.S. independent movies where there is so much uncertainty right now over shootings. All four projects that Orange Studio is selling will be delivered at the end of 2021.

During the Rendez-Vous, UniFrance also threw a bunch of fun activities into the mix to entertain participants beyond meetings and screenings. Ahead of the market, buyers received a basket of goodies from UniFrance including a bottle of champagne, which they could drink during the virtual cocktail kicking off the Rendez-Vous. “It was fun, we divided guests in small groups in separate rooms, and everyone could go from one room to another to mingle with different people,” said Elstner. Virtual gym classes where also organized by UniFrance to bring some fun into the Zoom rooms. “We could hear buyers debate about movies they had just seen during the gym class!” quipped Elstner.