The Cannes Film Festival is not the only French cultural institution feting its 65th anniversary this year. Melanie Goodfellow talks to CNC president Eric Garandeau.

“We were founded at about the same time,” CNC president Eric Garandeau says of France’s National Centre for Cinematography and the Moving Image (CNC) which launched on October 25 1946, three weeks after the first edition of Cannes.

The CNC will hold its annual presentation of activities during Cannes, this year on May 22 (Tuesday) at the Majestic. Items on the agenda will include its drive to digitise France’s huge film collection, its new World Cinema Fund and the second edition of Le Jour Le Plus Court short film day in December.

“Our plan to restore and digitise France’s film heritage is finally taking off,” says Garandeau. “When I arrived at the CNC in January 2011, I instigated the first inventory of the country’s film collection since the Lumière brothers. It’s on-going but we estimate there are ten to fifteen thousand films, representing more than 1.1 million reels.”

The CNC has spearheaded a state-backed investment fund to help big catalogue holders finance the restoration and digitisation of their vintage titles, in return for a percentage of any profits from their exploitation over a 15-year period.

Gaumont was the first company to sign up for the scheme earlier this year, announcing the digitisation of 270 titles including classics such as Jean Renoir’s Toni, and Henri-Georges Clouzot’s The Murderer Lives at Number 21.

A second scheme managed by the CNC and aimed at less commercially viable titles is also kicking off its activities.

“We’ve already agreed to look after the films of Agnes Varda, Jacques Demy and Max Lindor,” says Garandeau, who will announce the first wave of films to be restored at the presentation.

The CNC has just re-equipped its restoration laboratory of its Bois d’Arcy film archives and is developing an internet portal, aimed at putting France’s cinema heritage online.

Garandeau will also outline the new World Cinema Fund. The subsidy – worth an annual €6 million — replaces the Fonds Sud and the Aid to Foreign Language Films. A call for the projects was launched at the beginning of May.

“It’s open to directors from anywhere in the world with an original vision and no means of financing their film at home. It could even help an independent film out of the United states,” says Garandeau. “The only proviso is that it has a French producer attached.”

If an American film were to receive the World Cinema Fund’s backing it would be an interesting development.

The CNC’s creation was in part a reaction to an influx of American pictures following the Blum-Byrnes agreement of May 1946, restructuring France’s $2.8 billion World War Two debt to the United States.

In return for the deal, US Secretary of State James F. Byrnes demanded France open its markets to American goods, and in particular American productions, sparking fears from the country’s fragile post-war film industry that it would never recover if the market were flooded with American films.

Bowing to pressure, the French government put an annual 130-picture cap on the number of US films and introduced a 10.9% tax on all cinema tickets, the proceeds of which were put under the control of the fledgling CNC to mete out as subsidies for future productions.

It was the first step in the body’s funding system that underpins the CNC and the French film industry to this day.

65 years on, the CNC is one of the most powerful state cinema support bodies in the world, operating on an annual budget of around €700 million made-up predominantly of broadcaster obligations and taxes on cinema tickets and local internet players.

“There are very few films made in France that are not backed by the CNC, one way or another,” says Garandeau.

“People ask what is at the heart of the flourishing film industry in France, of course it is the professionals but it is also the virtuous eco-system running off a complex network of obligations and selective and automatic subsidies, overseen by the CNC.”

Garandeau concedes the CNC’s model is under pressure in the digital age, especially from the rise of global Internet players capable of distributing content into France but not subject to same obligations and taxes as local operators, but adds he is optimistic over the outcome.

“In just the same way the CNC faced up to the challenge television posed to cinema, we will find solutions for the Internet too.”