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French Film Executive Eric Lagesse on His Connection With Arab Cinema, State of the Arthouse Sector

French Film Executive Eric Lagesse on
Courtesy of Pyramide Films

Eric Lagesse, the CEO/president of Paris-based arthouse distributor and world sales outfit Pyramide Films, received the Industry Tribute Award at Cairo Film Festival on Friday. Variety spoke with him about his relationship with Arab cinema, and the state of the independent film business in France.

How do you feel about receiving this tribute?

It’s great, but I have had a year to get used to it. Because of the pandemic, I didn’t receive it last year, as planned. Nothing major has changed in the meantime. I am still very fond of Arab and Egyptian films. We are now working with a new generation of films and filmmakers like “Amira” (pictured), which played in the Horizons Competition at the Venice Film Festival this year.

What is your connection to the Arab film world?

We have been collaborating with the Arab world since the beginning of Pyramide. The first film I sold as an agent was “The Emigrant” by Youssef Chahine. We had a huge success with Chahine’s masterpiece “Destiny,” which sold everywhere in the world after playing in the Cannes competition in 1997. Chahine opened a lot of doors. He signed our pyramid logo. So each time we play a film in France, you see his name. The company was not named after the pyramids in Egypt. [Its launch] coincided with the opening of the Louvre pyramid [and was named after that]. But now everyone thinks [it’s a reference to] Egypt.

What is your relationship to Egypt and filmmakers from the region now?

I don’t go to Egypt that often, but I feel very connected to the country. And we have continued to work with a lot of filmmakers from the region. Palestinian filmmakers like Annemarie Jacir with “Salt of This Sea” or “Wajib.” Films from Tunisia, Morocco, Syria. There is a lot of talent in the region. Some of our other Arab world films include “You Will Die at 20” by Amjad Abu Alala, and “Divine Intervention” by Elia Suleiman. Another is the film “Nezouh,” by Soudade Kaadan, about a young girl living through the conflict in Damascus (but only for French distribution). “Much Loved” by French-Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch is another film Pyramide had for French distribution, alongside “Cairo 678,” Diab’s first film. The others are for French distribution and world sales.

Can you tell us about your career?

My career is rather linear. I started at Pyramide in 1992. I bought the company in 2008. I’ve been a sales agent for 30 years. I’m a rather faithful guy. I have had a lot of adventures at Pyramide: Running a company, buying, releasing films. It’s a bit like a tempest. Sometimes it is amazing. We have been living through some difficult times recently, but I hope we will, as we always have, come back to more balanced days. It’s a very risky business.

How do you survive the ups and downs of film?

I swim. It’s definitely very good for your health and tension. I’m surrounded by great people working with me. We are experiencing a very difficult time. We lose currently on every movie. But before 2020, we had really good years, and France has given us a lot of support, which helps because we lost a lot of movie-goers from seven-and-a-half months of closed cinemas. There’s a category of people that do not go to the cinema anymore. The age range of 45-65 doesn’t go to the cinema that much. We do not know what happened exactly, but it is perhaps that we left the theater closed for so long, maybe they subscribed to Netflix, or found another activity. This affects the big films less. But arthouse films have lost 50% of their audience. Studios have lost maybe 25%. Theaters in France say attendance is down 30%. As a French indie distributor, I lose 50% on everything currently. I am still paying the same amount to release films bought at pre-pandemic prices two years ago. All of us have so many films to release. We had 350 movies waiting to be released [in France] so we have released too many movies. I’ve released one film every two to three weeks since Cannes.

Is France a special place for the arthouse business?

In France, Paris is a very special place because you can mix your release between indie theaters and cinema chains. Arthouse in the countryside is more difficult. Last year was a disaster. This year also. But we are a great country for cinema. The CNC is very active and supports distributors a lot. A lot of other support is also in place that helps explain why we have so much success and new emerging talent. French women won the Golden Lion [Audrey Diwan for “Happening”] and the Palme d’Or (Julia Ducournau for “Titane”) this year. It couldn’t happen in another country, where there is not as much support as we have from the CNC. I just hope that people come back to the theaters.