France’s Les Arcs (Dec 14-21) combines screenings and skiing and has a growing industry profile. Michael Rosser previews the fifth edition.

As festivals look to distinguish themselves in a crowded market, the Les Arcs European Film Festival is surely the only film event to offer screenings in an igloo — a new addition 2,200 metres up in the mountains and accessible only by skis or bobsleigh.

The festival returns for its fifth edition from December 14-21 with its now well established blend of screenings and skiing in the French Alps.

Also being introduced for the first time is an honorary award supporting women directors. The inaugural Femme du Cinema prize will go to Jasmila Zbanic, the Bosnian director of For Those Who Can Tell No Tales.

Such additions are important for a festival that cannot rely on high-profile world premieres due to its timing in the festival calendar. Instead, Les Arcs focuses on showcasing independent European cinema in a similar way to how Sundance champions US indie fare.

Artistic director Frédéric Boyer has ensured that around 70% of the line-up will be French premieres and many of the titles will begin their European push fresh from Toronto. The event’s Paris-based co-founders Pierre-Emmanuel Fleurantin and Guillaume Calop, who both hail from Les Arcs, are anticipating the festival’s biggest year to date.

Fleurantin, who runs production outfit Paprika Films, says: “This year’s competition selection is one of the strongest. It is a real balance of the diverse offering that can be found across Europe.”

The 12 titles competing for the Crystal Arrow include Arnaud and Jean-Marie Larrieu’s French thriller Love Is The Perfect Crime [pictured], which also opens the festival; Hungary’s foreign-language Oscar submission The Notebook by Janos Szasz; and Pawel Pawlikowski’s Ida, which has already collected prizes at Toronto and London.

‘It is a real balance of the diverse offering that can be found across Europe’

Pierre-Emmanuel Fleurantin, festival co-founder

On the industry side, Fleurantin highlights the fact that submissions for the Arc 1950 Co-Production Village were up from 160 last year to 250 for the 2013 selection, of which just 28 were cherry-picked by Les Arcs head of industry Vanja Kaludjercic, who also heads up Paris Project. They include new projects from Ireland’s Ian Fitzgibbon and Iceland’s Runar Runarsson among others.

“As each year passes, sales agents are increasingly realising that Les Arcs is a wonderful place to promote their films,” says Fleurantin.

The Work In Progress section is also a hot draw each year, with this year’s offerings including Liebling directed by Steve Aernouts, Ellen Schoenaerts and Bert Haelvoet and produced by Bullhead’s Bart Van Langendonck; Paris Of The North directed by Either Way’s Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson; and Russian director Vuk Rsumovic’s No One’s Child.

In another sign of the event’s growing stature, a number of key players in European sales and production have already signed up to attend, including Indie Sales chief Nicolas Eschbach, Arte Cinema’s Remi Burah, SND’s Lionel Uzan, HanWay’s Fabien Westerhoff, Protagonist Pictures’ Mike Goodridge and Fox International Production’s Anna Kokourina.

“We have invited American and Canadian distributors,” says Fleurantin. “We want to open the market to non-European professionals, such as Fox International Production, so they can find good European films to finance.”

For the first time, the festival is providing a screening room at the heart of the village where sellers and producers can hold private screenings of their new films. It will also house a digital video library.

This year’s country focus will be on the cinema of the former Yugoslavia. There will be special industry events tied to the region as well as a programme of films. Screen is set to moderate a session that includes award-winning directors Danis Tanovic (An Episode In The Life Of An Iron Picker), Srdan Golubovic (Circles) and Zbanic. Other festival sidebars include the Panorama section, aimed at European films that have scored box-office success but have yet to secure a French distributor.

As in previous years, Les Arcs will host the DIRE days (December 17-21) organised by the independent French distributors network, during which each of the members will screen an upcoming release to exhibitors and discuss the challenges behind releasing European films in France.

Outside of the screening rooms and industry events, executives will take to the slopes for the skiing competition. Asked about his festival goals, Fleurantin jokes: “Defeating Remi Burah for the European Cinema Ski Cup.”