Sales veteran Daniela Elstner, best known as the head of Paris-based sales company Doc & Film International, has been appointed as the new managing director of French cinema promotional body Unifrance.
She replaces Isabelle Giordano who is leaving at the end of July after six years in the role.
The appointment was overseen by Unifrance president Serge Toubiana who was unanimously re-elected for another two-year term last week.
“I’m overjoyed that Daniela Elstner, a major figure in the export of French cinema, who is recognised throughout the profession for her knowledge of the sector and for her international network, has agreed to join us,” said Toubiana.
“With her arrival, and all the teams at Unifrance, the body is giving itself the means to face the challenges facing French cinema in many territories and to defend the interests of its films, artists, producers and all our members in a sector that is undergoing great change and is more competitive than ever.”
Elstner is due to take up the post mid-October to make her first official outing in her new role at the American Film Market (AFM), running Nov 6-13.
The new appointment means Elstner will be stepping down as CEO of Doc & Film International.
The founding shareholders of Doc & Film International – which comprise representatives of eight independent production companies including Agat Films & Cie, Achipel 33, JBA Productions, Films d’Ici and 3B Productions – thanked Elstner for her work over the last decade and wished her “every success” in the new role.
They said in a statement that they were studying options for the company’s continuation into the future.
”The reputation of Doc & Film, which stems both from the work of its team and all the filmmakers, producers and distributors who have put their confidence in the company, will allow for a rapid and serene transition,” they said in a statement.
“The editorial line and the spirit which have guided the development of the company will remain the same. An announcement regarding the future shape of the company will be made by the end of September.”
The choice of Elstner is likely to meet with approval from the French film industry, especially its sales agents who are at the forefront in securing French cinema distribution worldwide.
She arrives in the role with a extensive knowledge and experience of the international sales scene and the challenges involved in connecting non-English language feature films with audiences worldwide.
German-born Elstner began her career in the film industry at Unifrance in 1995 as assistant to the general manager.
From there, she moved Les Films du Losange in 1999, where she set up the historic French film company’s international sales department under the guidance of its managing director Margaret Ménégoz.
She attended her first Cannes Film Festival as a sales agent in 2000, representing Tunisian director Moufida Tlatli’s The Season Of Men, which premiered in Un Certain Regard.
In 2008, she became the managing director and partner of Doc & Film International. The company was originally created in 1996 by a group of French production houses including Agat Films & Cie, a collective of nine producers including Robert Guédiguian and Patrick Sobelman, 3B Productions, the joint company of Jean Bréhat, Rachid Bouchareb and Muriel Merlin, and Les Films d’Ici.
Over the years, Elstner has scouted and sold the films of an impressive line-up of arthouse directors, who have remained loyal to the Doc & Film label, including notably Italian documentarian Gianfranco Rosi for whom she sold Venice Golden Lion-winning Sacro GRA, El Sicario, Room 164 and the Berlinale Golden Bear winner Fire At Sea.
Other filmmakers she has worked with include Partho Sen-Gupta (Slam), Fien Troch (Home), Stéphane Brizé (A Few Hours Of Spring), Leyla Bouzid (As I Open My Eyes), Ghassan Salhab (The Valley), Claire Simon (Gare Du Nord), Martin Provost (Violette), Rachid Bouchareb (Just Like A Woman) and Pierre Schoeller (The Minister).
Beyond her direct international sales work, Elstner has already played a role shaping strategies for the sector in France and Europe as a long-time board member and driving force at sales agent organisation Europa International and as president of the French Film Exporters Association (ADEF). She will be stepping down from this role too.
She was also at the forefront of move to stamp out sexual harassment within the film industry in Europe as one of the first European industry professionals to reveal she had been a victim early on in her career.
On the basis of this experience, she spearheaded the Speak Up campaign at the Berlinale in 2018, aimed at supporting victims of sexual harassment within the industry and stamping it out.