Cash injection will help fund move into other parts of Europe.

French laboratory and post-production outfit the Eclair Group has won the backing of public-private fund the FCDE to help recapitalise the company to the tune of €12.4m ($16.4m).

The FCDE (Fonds de Consolidation et Développement des Enterprises) is to put some €9m ($11.9m) into the company alongside investments by the managers and existing shareholder Téléclair, which belongs to media tycoon Tarak Ben Ammar’s Quinta Communications Group.

“The investment of a fund like the FCDE provides the Eclair Group with solid foundations for its future development,” said Eclair Group president Thierry Forsans.

The €200m ($265m) FCDE is a joint initiative between France’s Deposits and Consignments Fund - which also invested in Luc Besson’s Cité du Cinéma studios - and a consortium of French banks and insurance firms. It was launched in 2009 with the aim of kick-starting small and medium sized enterprises amid the current difficult economic climate.

“This capital increase will allow the Eclair Group to complete its shift to digital and speed-up its development in all its divisions - ranging from post-production, distribution, adaptation and heritage — as well as accelerate development into Europe” said Forsans.

A key pole of Eclair’s recapitalisation plan is to bump up its heritage-based restoration and digitisation activities. The group is aiming to work on 150 pictures this year. It makes good business sense. Historic French production companies Gaumont and Pathé are currently in the process of digitising and restoring their catalogues and there is also a CNC grant system for independent producers wishing to digitise 35mm prints.

The recapitalisation will enable the Eclair Group to expand its restoration work into other European territories. It has already announced a strategic partnership with the Italian film restoration specialist the L’immagine ritrovata in Bologna.

Eclair is also partnering with digital distribution specialist Deluxe and HP on their joint initiative to speed up distribution systems via cloud technology. The new digital network is set to launch in French cinemas in October 2013.

The overall aim, the Eclair Group said in a statement, was to become a dominant digital and post-production player in France and even into Europe.

Thierry de Segonzac, head of the professional body representing French technical industries FICAM, said the recapitalisation was a positive development.

“I rejoice that investors have understood it makes sense to invest in the technical industries sector linked to cinema. This move marks a return in confidence in a century-old industry which will enable it to better face the exceptional challenges of digital cinema in the 21st century,” he commented.

FCDE manager Pierre Taillardat said of the operation. “Technical industries have entered into a new area, with a need to combine a very complex artistic know-how - which is crucial to their customers - and the constraints of high tech industries.”

Tunisian media tycoon Ben Ammar has had a 43% stake in Eclair since 2007 through the acquisition of Téléclair, the company of the original owners, the Dormoy family.

At the time of the acquisition was to merge the historic laboratory, dating back to 1907, with rival film-processing company LTC, which was already owned by Quinta, to create the largest film-processing and post-production facility in France.
To this end, Ben Ammar also started acquiring post-production facilities under the Quinta Industries banner.

“When I entered Eclair and LTC I could already see the way things were going. Right from the start my plan was to re-group the companies to create one company covering everything from the lab through to digital and post-production services.”

“But on the one hand, the National Cinema Centre (CNC) was advocating a re-grouping in line with my plan and on the other hand the competition commission blocked the merger proposed by me and the managers at Eclair on the basis that we would have had a monopoly, telling us to come back in a couple of years.

“We told them at the time, ‘We’ll be dead by then’ and that is exactly what happened… Eclair went into chapter 11, LTC couldn’t survive in the chapter 11 we tried to set-up and died in 2011.

Some five years later, Eclair’s management FCDE and Ben Ammar have partly resurrected that vision, although not with the LTC component intact.

“I am proud to contribute, as minority shareholder, to help the company and its management on the way to coming the leading player in Europe. This would be the achievement of my initial vision,” said Ben Ammar.

“People at Eclair are very excited and impatient to write this new chapter of the company history. They are confident in our expertise, ready to rise to the future challenge and totally committed to the company and its customers,” concluded Forsans.