Magazine article Screen International

France Focus: Fast Forward

Magazine article Screen International

France Focus: Fast Forward

Article excerpt

Some 120 years ago, Auguste and Louis Lumiere made cinema history when they filmed workers leaving their photographic equipment factory in Lyons.

The footage - consisting of grainy images of women in long skirts, a man on a bicycle, and a horse and carriage passing through the factory gate - is considered to be the first ever motion picture, although in truth other works predate it.

A short time later, in December 1895, a series of public screenings in Le Salon Indien du Grand Café in Paris, organised by the Lumieres, marked the birth of one of the most cinephile nations on the planet.

Today, the country that pioneered cinema is home to one of the most important film industries in the world. A quarter of the Cannes titles premiering in this year's Official Selection, Directors' Fortnight, Critics' Week and ACID hail from France.

Gritty social dramas such as Dheepan by Cannes habitué Jacques Audiard and Standing Tall by second-time feature director Emmanuelle Bercot will play alongside Valérie Donzelli's costume drama Marguerite And Julien and the low-budget existentialist sci-fitale Cosmodrama by Philippe Fernandez.

With some 250 features produced a year, France covers all the bases. But while the strong selection suggests France's film industry is in rude health, recent production figures and anecdotal accounts paint a different picture.

An annual study by the country's National Cinema Centre (CNC), released in January, showed that investment in French film production plummeted by 20% in 2014 to reach a 13-year low, with the number of features falling to 258, some 12 fewer than in 2013. The numbers are not expected to pick up in 2015.

Loss of appetite

The industry is facing multiple challenges, including one of the most difficult economic periods for France since the Second World War and the rise of digital distribution platforms outside the country, which are putting pressure on its traditional release windows and intertwined funding mechanisms.

Other pressures include the shiftfrom the big screen to smartphones and tablets by younger generations, which is forcing broadcasters to rethink formats, and a new labour agreement for crew, the Convention Collective, which has driven up production costs.

Linked to all of the above, the biggest challenge for producers today is securing the backing of broadcasters and distributors which, alongside the CNC, are traditionally the backbone of film financing in France. Falling investment by pay-TV channel Canal Plus, which under French law is obliged to invest 12.5% of its budget in European film, with the onus on French productions, is particularly affecting the industry.

"The French side? It's hell," says Jean- Baptiste Babin, founding partner of Paris-based film financiers Backup Media Group, which works on French and international productions.

Recent titles include French writer-director Nicolas Saada's India-set Taj Mahal, reconstructing the Mumbai attacks of 2008, as well as international productions Brimstone by Martin Koolhoven, Julio Medem's Ma ma and, before that, Still Alice.

"To present a French project internationally, we've got to show it has attracted investment back home, to give investors confidence, but that's proving difficult," says Babin, noting that Backup has seen an uptick in producers seeking its services.

"There were producers we knew who would always get a distributor and Canal Plus. Today, nobody is taking that for granted. No-one is sure of finding a distributor or a broadcaster."

The CNC figures showed Canal Plus investment in feature films dropped by 15% in 2014 to $151m (euro136m). In total, the broadcaster pre-bought 103 European titles, 92 of them French. It was the first time in a decade that Canal Plus had invested in less than 40% of all French film productions, and the second year in a row its investment in European cinema had fallen.

In 2013, it financed 126 films to the tune of $185m (euro167m), representing a 14% fall. …

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