Elizabeth Conter • Unifrance
by Fabien Lemercier
29/03/2007 - On the occasion of Unifrance event “A Rendez-Vous with French Cinema” in London (March 29-April 1), UK Study & Markets expert Elizabeth Conter met with Cineuropa to discuss why the UK market is difficult for French films to access and why non-anglophone European productions are often pigeon-holed as ‘specialist films.
Cineuropa: Are French films succeeding in breaking into the UK market?
Elizabeth Conter: French cinema has come a long way in the UK and has exceeded 1% of market share in the past two years. In 2005, there were 2.5m admissions (1.5% of market share), the bulk of which came from the co-production The Magic Roundabout, but 2006 has also been a surprisingly good year with about 1.9m admissions (1.1% of market share). And 2007 looks very promising, with over 40 French films already scheduled for release in comparison to an average 30-40 in past years (35 in 2006). Yet it is still very difficult for non-English language and films without subtitles to break into this market. No culture of dubbing exists, so there are very few children’s films for example. Having said that 2007 has been an exceptional year with the release of Franklin and Azur & Asmar [trailer].
How do distributors influence this trend?
Now there is a network of dynamic distributors, while for a long time the number of distributors could be counted on one hand. Artificial Eye continues to be the major distributor of French films in the UK, releasing an average one film a month. Its merger with Curzon Cinemas now links it to the most important independent theatres in London (all distributors await the release dates at Curzon Soho). But new distributors have arrived on the scene, including some new companies from the video sector, such as Revolver who bought Guillaume Canet’s Tell No One [trailer] after it released 13 Tzameti [trailer, film focus]. The number of small distributors that arrived on scene a few years ago has grown significantly thanks to video arrivals, in particular Optimum (bought by StudioCanal last year) and they have changed category. These outfits, which worked on small specialist films have now given way to even more newcomers. So the distributors’ network has become much more differentiated with some distributors, who had not bought French films for a long time now making a comeback, such as Metrodome, who distributed Them [trailer] and will release Days of Glory [trailer, film focus] on March 30. However, paradoxically, access to films in cinema theatres is even more complicated, as there are more and more films being bought. This is because UGC has disappeared from the cinema market due to their strong preferences for English films (and Cineworld does not pursue the same strategy). The Curzon–Artificial Eye merger also makes it even more difficult for small distributors to access theatres.
What are the release strategies?
A combination of 25–40 prints is a good domestic release for an independent French film. London focuses on non-mainstream filmgoers. It is still very difficult for these films to get released in the rest of the country, except in the five medium-sized cities and one day or another it will be necessary to tackle the regions in an effort to attract more cinemagoers. However, this concentration on London has the advantage of not leading to massive rises in release costs. And for promotion, London has an advantage as a city as actors and directors are prepared to travel there and the London media are hungry for interviews. But films need stars to get good media coverage. However, the Hollywood machines don’t work as well as before and filmgoers are now beginning to show interest in cinema from other countries. We have to take advantage of this.
What films are expected to do well in 2007 ?
Arthur and the Invisibles [trailer] has got off to a very good start. Icon will release La Vie en Rose [trailer] in June. Artificial Eye has lined up Private Fears in Public Places [trailer], The Singer [trailer], Lady Chatterley [trailer] and Inside Paris [trailer] while Optimum has high expectations for My Best Friend [trailer]. There are also more specialised films, such as Flanders [trailer], Fissures [trailer] and Les petites vacances [trailer], films that were no longer being bought and are now by small companies. Also, these French films are selling at very variable prices, anywhere between €10,000 and €150,000 – even €300,000 for films with very strong potential such as La Vie en Rose, which has reached top admissions. But as the first step is access, international sales agents for French films do not yet consider the British market as profitable.