New films from Tony Gatlif, Lucas Belvaux and actor-turned-director Mélanie Laurent will be unveiled for the first time at the Rendez-vous with French film in Paris.

The 2012 film market calendar kicks off on January 11, with Unifrance’s annual Rendez-vous with French Cinema in Paris, showcasing some 75 French films, 30 of them world premieres.

“This is the first big event of the year for the film industry after the Christmas holidays and the second most important market of the year for the French sales companies after Cannes,” says Unifrance president Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre. “Berlin is also important but the key thing about the Rendez-vous is buyers come here just to see French films. Deals sealed at Berlin often start in Paris.

“Buyers like to come here,” he suggests. “They’re well looked after and it’s easy to attend because the screenings are close to the hotel. The Rendez-vous is one of the great lasting legacies of [Daniel] Toscan du Plantier.”

He is referring to his late predecessor at Unifrance, who initiated the event some 14 years ago. “It gives a real boost to the industry in a dead time of the year. It was a great invention on his part.”

Some 40 French sales companies will attend the event in the Grand Hotel opposite the Paris Opera from January 11-16. The 14th edition is expected to attract 400 international film and TV buyers.

The two-pronged event will also welcome around 120 journalists from 27 countries for a series of press junkets with the directors and casts of 2011 French films due to hit international screens in 2012 such as The Artist, Declaration Of War and Poliss.

“Sometimes it feels like you’ve got the whole of the French cinema world in the corridors of the Grand Hotel,” says Unifrance deputy director general Gilles Renouard.

Films scheduled for market premieres include Tony Gatlif’s timely Indignados, examining Europe’s economic crisis and the resulting Occupy movement through the eyes of a fictional illegal immigrant from Africa. Les Films du Losange acquired world sales rights just before Christmas.

StudioCanal is set to screen new promo reels for Florent Emilio Siri’s Cloclo, starring Jérémie Renier as the legendary late singer Claude Francois, and Ernest And Celestine, the latest feature-length cartoon from Paris-based Les Armateurs, the animation house behind Michel Ocelot’s pictures as well as The Triplets Of Belleville.

The company will also present its recent French releases, Frédéric Berthe and Pascal Serieis’ comedy Hollywoo, starring Jamel Debbouze, and actress Mélanie Laurent’s directorial debut, a family drama called Les Adoptés.

TF1 is premiering five recently completed films including Philippe Lefebvre’s Paris, By Night, starring Roschdy Zem as a tough vice-squad cop doing the nightly rounds of Paris’ underbelly, and Eric Guirado’s psychological thriller Greed.

EuropaCorp will unveil novelist Frédéric Biegbeder’s adaptation of his Love Lasts Three Years (L’Amour Dure Trois Ans) about a rakish literary agent whose cynical take on love is shaken when he falls for his cousin’s wife. Beigbeder directs.

Other Angle Pictures is set to roll out the third film in the hit Would I Lie To You? (La Verité Si Je Mens) comedy series and Films Distribution will premiere Lucas Belvaux’s 38 Witnesses [pictured], inspired by the infamous 1964 New York murder of Kitty Genovese. Yvan Attal, Nathalie Baye and Nicole Garcia star in the film which will go on to open the International Film Festival Rotterdam.

Films successfully launched at the Rendez-vous in the past include Pascal Chaumeil’s Heartbreaker, which went on to sell in more than 30 territories, and France’s biggest ever box-office hit Welcome To The Sticks, which screened first at the event in 2009.

Beyond the market, Unifrance is organising a meeting with the 50 exhibitors in attendance to discuss the presence of French film in their theatres.

“We have invited the owners of art-house cinemas as well as representatives of the big multiplexes… it’s an informal meeting,” says Renouard.

Unifrance is also attempting to gather the heads of Europe’s key state broadcasters — including the BBC, Italy’s Rai, Belgium’s RTBF and France Télévisions — for a closed discussion on January 14 on how to encourage the distribution of European films on public broadcasters across Europe.

“We’re pulling it together in collaboration with ARP,” says Renouard, referring to France’s writers, directors and producers’ body. “We’re going to invite a handful of directors and producers to the discussions too. It will be a high-level meeting of 25 people.”

Unifrance will also hold its annual press conference on the performance of French films at the international box office in 2011 as well as its strategy for the coming year on January 13.

According to Unifrance, international admissions in 2010 for French films dropped by 10.9% to 59.9 million for a total box-office gross of $431.9m (€330m). But 2012 is expected to be stronger with titles such as Nothing To Declare, A Monster In Paris, The Artist, Declaration Of War and Untouchable expected to enjoy substantial international runs.


French sales companies enjoy bumper 2010

If 2010 was a less than stellar year at the international box office for French films, it was a bumper year in terms of total net takings for France’s sales companies.

According to figures from the CNC’s eighth annual film export report, net takings for French films such as Little White Lies rose by 26.1% to $230.4m (€176.2m) in 2010, the highest level since the study was launched.   

Unlike Unifrance’s report, which focuses on box-office receipts, the CNC study looks at net returns from all media, ranging from theatrical releases to VoD. It is based on questionnaires and interviews with 24 French sales companies.

Receipts for foreign films represented by French sales houses, which accounted for 34.7% of the questioned companies’ export business in 2010, also rose by 2.5% to $120.1m (€91.8m).

Breaking down the figures, receipts for films made after January 1, 2007, rose by 23.1% to $195.3m (€149.3m). Net returns for catalogue films increased by 49.1% to $30.6m (€23.4m), representing 13.5% of export business in 2010.

Western Europe remained the principal destination for French cinema in 2010, accounting for 42.9%  of receipts, followed by North America, which generated roughly a quarter of returns.