Unifrance president and Mact producer Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre tells Melanie Goodfellow why the organisation is focusing on Singapore as it seeks to invest in new markets

French stars Carole Bouquet, Ludivine Sagnier and Mathieu Demy are set to jet into Singapore this December for Unifrance’s first big promotional operation aimed at the South-East Asian market.

“The Alliance Francaise has traditionally held a French film festival in Singapore every September. We have shifted the dates to December to coincide with the Asian Television Forum,” says Unifrance president Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre, who also produces under the Mact Productions banner.

The 12th edition of the Asia Television Forum (ATF) will run December 7-9. The pan-Asian market, which bills itself as the premium content market for the region, announced a total of $149.2m worth of deals done in 2010.

Unifrance’s Rendez-vous with French Cinema in Singapore will run concurrently with the ATF from December 7-13. The festival will screen a selection of six films already sold to the region, including Michel Hazanavicius’ The Artist, Gilles Paquet-Brenner’s Sarah’s Key (Elle S’Appelait Sarah), Dominik Moll’s The Monk (La Moine), Daniel Auteuil’s The Well Digger’s Daughter (La Fille Du Puisatier) and Rémi Bezancon’s A Happy Event (Un Heureux Événement).

It will also showcase a further nine films yet to sell to South-East Asian territories, including Mathieu Demy’s Americano, Christophe Honoré’s The Beloved (Les Bien-Aimés) and Ismael Ferroukhi’s Free Men (Les Hommes Libres).

Also screening is Franco-Vietnamese director Rithy Panh’s Gibier D’Élevage, about an African-American pilot who is held as a prisoner by the children of a small village in Cambodia after his plane crashes.

There will also be a retrospective devoted to Carole Bouquet, revolving around a selection of films selected by the actress.

‘This initiative makes absolute sense for us. South-East Asia is a huge market’

Antoine de Clermont-Tonnerre, Unifrance

Alongside Bouquet, Sagnier and Demy, Astrid Berges Frisbey, the young Franco-Spanish actress whose credits include Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides and who appears in The Well Digger’s Daughter is also expected in town to support the event with actor Pio Marmai and directors Ferroukhi and Bezancon.

“We have invited 40 distributors from territories across the region, including Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, India, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam, to attend the festival and we also have an umbrella stand with the ATF,” says de Clermont-Tonnerre.

Some 32 French television firms have registered to attend the market this year. Unifrance is going to bring a dozen film sales companies to both the festival and the ATF. They are: Gaumont, Le Pacte, Doc & Film International,  Films Distribution, Futurikon, Le Pacte, Le Petit Bureau, Les Films du Losange, Memento Films International, MK2, TF1 International and Wild Bunch.

“The creation of this new event comes from Unifrance’s desire to invest in new markets,” says de Clermont-Tonnerre. “This initiative makes absolute sense for us. South-East Asia is a huge market, representing 100 million inhabitants, 2,500 screens and a turnover of more than $401.7m (€300m).”

“Looking specifically at Singapore, it is a very good cinema market. Last year the country registered 22 million box office admissions for a fairly small population – less than seven million… that’s better than in France in terms of admissions per inhabitant,” he adds.

Unifrance’s latest Rendez-vous in Singapore adds to a growing list of similar state-backed events across the globe, exploring potential new markets.

De Clermont-Tonnerre says the Rendez-vous also stems from Singapore’s efforts to become a key audiovisual pole and cultural centre for the region. “The country used to focus mainly on finance but it seems to be changing its focus,” he says.

“There are a lot of French-themed cultural events taking place in [Singapore] at the moment and in the coming months. A huge Impressionist exhibition is being held at the moment and the Paris Opera is due to perform there in the new year.”