A blend of screenings and skiing is helping to put Les Arcs European Film Festival (Dec 15-22) on the end-of-year calendar.

If Sundance had a young European cousin, it might be Les Arcs. Located at a ski resort in the French Alps, Les Arcs European Film Festival now returns for a fourth year, with the aim of showcasing independent European cinema in the same way Robert Redford’s event champions US indie fare.

“Sundance is the model for us,” says festival CEO and co-founder Pierre-Emmanuel Fleurantin. “We try to capture the same small, charming spirit where people can meet and defend films that deserve a wider audience.”

Fleurantin, who runs Paris-based production outfit Paprika Films, says he launched the festival with Guillaume Calop, general manager of DVD company Chalet Pointu, as there was “no other major event focused only on European cinema”. The two both grew up in Les Arcs.

Running for eight days, from Dec 15-22, this year promises to be the biggest festival to date. Around 60 films will be presented at six screening rooms throughout the ski resort, representing some of the best European film-making of the year. Many are French premieres.

Some 12 features will compete for the festival’s top prize, the Crystal Arrow. They include Daniele Cipri’s It Was The Son, Andrei Proshkin’s The Horde and Baltasar Kormakur’s The Deep [pictured], which featured in Les Arcs’ Work in Progress industry strand last year. “We are so proud The Deep was discovered in Les Arcs,” says Fleurantin.

All of the competition directors will attend the festival and the winner will be decided by a jury led by Romanian director Cristian Mungiu.

The programme, which is also open to the public, has been compiled by Les Arcs artistic director and former Directors’ Fortnight chief Frédéric Boyer, who holds the same title at the Tribeca Film Festival.

“When Frédéric is creating the programme, he has the public in mind,” says Fleurantin. “People wait all year for this festival, as there are not many cultural events in the valley. We have an audience award and it is interesting to get their opinion as it can show what may attract a larger audience.”

Last year’s audience award went to Ian Fitzgibbon’s Death Of A Superhero.

This year, the festival’s country focus section will spotlight Belgian cinema, with Belgian actors Marie Gillain and Helena Noguerra on the competition jury. A sidebar will present some of the best new cinema from Belgium.

Les Arcs is also hosting a series of industry workshops, most notably the Co-production Village and the DIRE Days. There will also be a focus on the VoD market, a case study of Michael Roskam’s Oscar-nominated Bullhead and the presentation of the new $6.5m (€5m) Flemish fund Screen Flanders.

Even with such a slew of business events, the skiing is also a big draw at the intimate festival. Fleurantin believes it is Les Arcs’ confident mix of business and pleasure that is helping to build the festival’s reputation. Confirmed attendees this year include Yohann Comte, deputy head of sales at Gaumont, and Gilles Sousa, head of international sales at Bac Films. Perhaps one of the hardest fought competitions of the week will be the European Cinema Ski Cup. Open to film industry professionals, the French will defend the title on Dec 17.

Industry Events

Les Arcs’ industry events are growing in popularity. The Co-Production Village, which gives European producers the opportunity to find partners and financing for their projects, has received around 150 applications, almost double the 80 projects submitted in 2011. This year the market is presenting 26 projects, up on last year’s 22, with an average budget of $3.3m (€2.5m).

The second annual Work in Progress session, taking place on Dec 16, is showcasing 12 features — compared with seven last year — seeking distribution or sales representation. The Les Arcs touch includes wine, oysters and cheese after the session.

The DIRE Days forum (Dec 19-22) will see each member of European distributors’ union DIRE present a European film from their 2013 line-up to more than 100 European exhibitors.