Is this trip to Yokohama your first experience of Japan?
Well, it's my first trip here to accompany a film. Marc Fitoussi's film Paris Follies was released in Japan, but I was not here to take part in its launch. It's not often that producers travel abroad to accompany films, but School's Out is a special case: we realized this early on, once the film had been shot and we were discussing it with Hengameh Panahi from Celluloid Dreams, who are handling international sales. Hengameh told us that this film was perfect for Japan, particularly due to its themes that deal with ecology and the threat of nuclear war. And in the past few days, we've seen that she was spot on—in addition to the audience reception, we've had a lot of positive comments from journalists who've spoken to Sébastien, and many discussions with our distributor, King Records Co.. The film clearly speaks to Japanese people, despite the obvious cultural differences. For example, people here have questioned the arrogance of the children in the film, even if we explain that these children do not necessarily represent how young people are in France today! We asked our distributor a lot of questions, such as about how young people reacted to the Fukushima disaster and what kind of traumas they experienced because of it. It seems, though, that whatever upheavals they experienced on a personal level, nothing has really changed here at the community or political level. Nonetheless, these people have clearly experienced trauma and they talk about it in the same way as we did in France after the terrorist attacks of 2015 (such as describing exactly where they were at the time and what they were doing that day), and that also creates a point of connection.
How did the sale of the film in Japan come about?
King Records showed an interest in the film when it was screened at Venice, which was the film's world premiere. They really liked it, but they had never distributed a French film and, what's more, they specialize in genre films. School's Out is not a genre film in the strict sense of the term, it's difficult to categorize being neither a genre film nor a purely art house production. So they said they wanted to see it again at the Sitges Film Festival, and that's where they took the plunge and decided to commit to distributing it in Japan. We've signed a deal for theatrical distribution, with its release slated for October. For them, it's an art house film, not one that's suited to release in multiplexes, which is understandable from their perspective, so they were very amused to find out that in France it's more commonly programmed in multiplexes, which they see as only suited to American blockbusters. Moving forward, we'll wait and see how things develop according to how the film is received. In any case, they've seemed very happy to welcome us here in Japan for a few days, and to see that Sébastien was able to meet with so many media representatives in a very short time—he spent two whole days in a hotel room answering questions of all kinds from journalists, not only from specialized media outlets but also from the mainstream press, thankfully with the help of a fabulous, very dedicated interpreter! For King Records, this gives a strong sign of the potential interest from the media in the film, and that's very reassuring.
Is selling a film like School's Out in Japan important to you as a producer?
It's of crucial importance, because it's part of a goal that Sébastien and I set for ourselves to ensure that the film is seen around the world. It's a film that we really wanted to share with people outside France because of the subjects it explores. It's been sold in around fifteen markets around the world, which is fantastic, especially since it wasn't hugely successful in France. It registered 100,000 admissions in France, whereas Faultless registered 200,000. But the fact that it premiered at Venice immediately positioned it on an international level, and the hard work and determination of Hengameh Panahi and her teams, who show great commitment in every territory, took care of the rest. It's very moving for us to think that Sébastien and I first talked about this film only two and a half years ago, and now here we are in Yokohama, facing audiences that we might imagine as being very different from us and yet, at the same time, we share a common language: the language of cinema. When people talk about the film, they mention The White Ribbon, Magnolia, or Village of the Damned, and everyone understands! It's the same with our distributors—we've have dinner with ten people whom we don't know, with everything seeming to be so tightly scheduled, so heavily codified, with a clearly defined hierarchy (which is so different to our meetings in France), and yet we can all enjoy a delicious meal during which we discuss Parasite and French cinema thanks to this common language that unites us and that is of such great importance. Just as important is the fact that UniFrance makes it possible for encounters like this to continue to exist thanks to festivals like this one—these human connections that lead to business dealings, that allow us to sell our films and to show them to people all around the world.