Eric Lagesse • Exporter
by Fabien Lemercier
25/06/2007 - With wins of the Caméra d’Or (Jellyfish [trailer], see article) and Critics’ Week Grand Prize (XXY [trailer]) at the Cannes Film Festival this year, international sales outfit Pyramide has once again confirmed its skill as a talent scout. The independent outfit, producer, distributor and exporter, which will release Fatih Akin’s The Edge of Heaven [trailer, film focus] (see interview) on November 14, has always been involved in quality auteur cinema (Kaurismäki, Sorrentino, Elia Suleiman, the Larrieu brothers), but today the outfit finds itself at the centre of pressure affecting French independents. Cineuropa meets its Head of International Sales, Eric Lagesse.
Cineuropa: Is Cannes still a necessary route to sell European auteur films?
Eric Lagesse: There are three big markets for popular European auteur films with potential that we sell at: Cannes, Berlin and Toronto. Berlin has become extremely important since the American Film Market is no longer held directly after it. Now, everyone goes there, whereas before the Japanese, Koreans and South Americans tended to go only to the AFM. But Cannes remains the most important event for quality films, where all international buyers meet. A big success at Cannes allows us to make a third of our annual turnover and sell 30 territories in three hours. But if your film isn’t well received, you lose out big time. We talk with business people of course, who gauge a film’s potential, but also people who are passionate about and love cinema and sometimes want to have an auteur film in their catalogue, to buy a film even if they know it won’t be easy to release it in cinemas. At Pyramide, that’s how we work as a distributor: some films are difficult, but we can’t afford to ignore them because they are works by well-known auteurs like Nuri Bilge Ceylan. But, who do these French films selected at Cannes "belong" to? Seventy percent of them belong to Pyramide, Rezo, Haut et Court, Diaphana and ARP – in other words the independents. We play the game and we offer auteur films but the day when we can no longer play the game, what will Cannes put in competition?
What difficulties do independents face?
The way things are going – and here I’m going to be deliberately alarmist – if the government doesn’t take decisions in support of producers and independent distributors, I don’t know what will be showing at Cannes in five years and in the French selections at Venice, Berlin and Toronto. Many films are being produced but more and more of them under difficult conditions. They are also increasingly difficult to distribute and disappear from cinemas at a crazy speed, while the costs of release are on the rise. The audience hears about big hits, but in fact 40% of French films attract less than 20,000 cinemagoers. Also, independent distributors are increasingly more involved in film production because producers don’t have enough resources. Yet independent distributors have to struggle to release debut films. Half of the films released by Pyramide each year are debut features, such as 7 Years [trailer] or On the Ropes. We are talent scouts and their films succeed in being produced because we invest in them. If our work is not recognised by a real status, we don’t know how long more we can last. And I’m not only talking about Pyramide. Today the problem is there from the start. For example, is it normal that integrated groups and others, those who belong to television channels, get the same benefits as us? Not to mention the TPS–CinéCinéma merger, or Canal Plus’ very tough policy on acquisitions in recent years. We are going through a fragile period and are resisting because we are strong and have a strong catalogue. Although television films are doing very well, we’re going to end up with a two-tiered system, with films simply being released in cinemas and television films being shown on TV. All the same it’s very worrying to see that every television film attracts more viewers than almost any film. Cinema depends on television a lot, because there are investment obligations, but we can’t programme La grande vadrouille every week. We’re at the bottom of the chain and if we continue to receive crumbs, I don’t know how long that can last. You could really say that we spend our life taking risks on auteur cinema.