French sales companies are often one of the first ports of call for an international buyer looking for veteran film-makers, cutting-edge work from genre masters such as Guillermo del Toro and arthouse experiments such as Todd Haynes' I'm Not There.
Outfits including Wild Bunch, Celluloid Dreams and Bac Films have established themselves as brands in their own right, with recent projects including Persepolis (Celluloid), Silent Light (Bac), The Orphanage and Palme d'Or winner 4 Months, 3 Weeks & 2 Days (both Wild Bunch).
On a more commercial footing, TFM's La Vie En Rose has earned more than $10m in the US to date (via Picturehouse), while last year Rezo Films sold Julie Delpy's directorial effort 2 Days In Paris to IDP Distribution in the US, where it earned $4.5m.
"When I buy European films, I often buy from French companies. I feel they know their distributors and listen to us," says Enrique Gonzalez, head of acquisitions at Spanish distributor Alta Films, whose slate is 80% made up of European films.
"There needs to be something that jumps out, like an easily identifiable auteur or a controversial documentary," says Wild Bunch chief Vincent Maravel, of how he chooses his slate, which includes Morgan Spurlock's documentary, Where In The World Is Osama Bin Laden' The film was one of the company's strongest titles last year.
Indeed, 2007 was a busy year in the French sales and distribution sector. One of the most high-profile events came just before Cannes with the merger and subsequent de-merger of Celluloid and the UK's HanWay Films (the companies now share a 500-title library called Dreamachine).
At the Toronto International Film Festival, Jean Labadie was informed by e-mail that the board of Bac Films, the sales and distribution company he founded 21 years ago, had ejected him. The impact of Labadie's departure on the company's sales slate has yet to be felt, as all films on its line-up are acquisitions made under his stewardship. Labadie has already set up a new distribution company, Le Pacte, where he will continue to work with his established talent pool including Jim Jarmusch. He also plans to integrate a sales arm.
In a groundbreaking move, Wild Bunch signed a deal with US investment group Continental Entertainment Capital, creating a $150m co-production and acquisition joint-venture. It marked the next stage in the company's bid to bolster a planned European distribution network. It has also taken a stake in Italy's Bim Distribuzione, and in December formed a joint venture distribution outfit in Germany with Senator Entertainment.
Meanwhile, nascent sales outfit Coach 14, which launched in 2006, has enjoyed success with a slew of non-French-language titles including Jeff Nichols' Shotgun Stories and El Rey De La Montana by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego. Recent pick-ups include Edoardo Winspeare's Galantuomini, Guillermo Groizard's Proyecto Dos and Miguel Garcia Borda's Lazo Rotos.
A new sales outfit has entered the fray for 2008. Housed at Stephane Celerier's Mars Distribution, Eva Diederix and Adeline Fontan Tessaur, formerly of UGC and TF1 respectively, will run Elle Driver. While not strictly Mars' sales arm, the new company has a first-look deal with them. Wild Bunch has also come in to pay some overhead costs and will likely propose some films to Elle Driver (see People, p12).
This week, Unifrance's Rendez-Vous screenings in Paris (see sidebar, right) features the debut of several high-profile personnel changes at some of France's leading outfits. StudioCanal's international sales director, Muriel Sauzay, was snapped up by Pathe last summer to become its sales chief. Sauzay's replacement at StudioCanal, Harold van Lier, brings global experience to the table having worked in Los Angeles and London for Intermedia and Summit.
And in early December, StudioCanal announced the departure of managing director Frederic Sichler, who was instrumental in re-structuring the company. StudioCanal is believed to have set its sights on acquiring German distributor Kinowelt.
Celluloid Dreams' CEO Philippe Aigle, predicts this year will see companies concentrating on fewer films at higher budgets, with French companies attracting further foreign investment. "The financing will come either from the US or from Europe," he says. "The business is more structured today and the sector is becoming more industrialised."
Dir: Philippe Muyl
Muyl's circus comedy Magique is produced by Pan Europeenne, Remstar and TPS Star. Starring Marie Gillain, singer Cali and Antoine Dulery, it will be ready in time for Cannes. Telling the story of a boy who tries to cheer up his mother by convincing a travelling circus to set up in front of their home, the family film will be released by Paramount Pictures France in October.
International sales: Wild Bunch
Tel : (33) 1 53 01 50 20
Un Conte De Noel
Dir: Arnaud Desplechin
The award-winning director of Esther Kahn and Kings And Queen has assembled a star-studded cast headed by Catherine Deneuve, Mathieu Amalric, Chiara Mastroianni, Emmanuelle Devos and Melvil Poupaud to star in this heartrending tale of a family torn apart by a child's death. Bac Films has French rights.
International sales: Wild Bunch
Tel: (33) 1 53 01 50 20
Les Randonneurs A Saint-Tropez
Dir: Philippe Harel
Harel, who had great success with 1997's Les Randonneurs, returns 10 years on with a follow-up set in the jet-set playground of Saint-Tropez. The cast includes Benoit Poelvoorde, Karin Viard, Geraldine Pailhas and Vincent Elbaz all making a return trek. TF1 International will begin talking up the project, which is produced by Lazennec Films, at the Rendez-Vous.
International sales: TF1 International
Tel: (33) 1 41 41 12 34
Dir: Solveig Anspach
Set in Reykjavik, Back Soon is a comedy about a woman trying to leave behind her prosperous marijuana-dealing business in order to move out of Iceland. Directed by Iceland's Anspach, the film is produced by Agat Films. According to Bac Films' sales executive Camille Neel, the film is generating strong interest. "I'm confident we'll be followed by everyone on this one," she says.
International sales: Bac Films
Tel: (33) 1 53 53 52 52
The Maiden And The Wolves
Dir: Gilles Legrand
Legrand's adventure film stars Laetitia Casta, Jean-Paul Rouve and Stefano Accorsi in the story of a girl determined to become the first female veterinarian in post-First World War France. Caught in a bitter rivalry between two suitors, she plays the situation to her advantage, using the men to help her save a pack of wolves. Legrand's previous film, Malabar Princess, was a big hit in France and The Maiden And The Wolves will premier at the Paris Rendez-Vous, where it has been reserved to screen for buyers before being sold. All territories are available except France, where Warner Bros will release.
International sales: Films Distribution
Tel: (33) 1 53 10 33 99.