In Official Selection
Night of the Kings by Philippe Lacôte
The only French film to be selected for Venice, Toronto, and New York, Night of the Kings by Philippe Lacôte (director of Run in 2014) ranks, for Mathieu Delaunay, head of sales at Memento International, "as a very fine arthouse film that we could have imagined at Cannes, had the festival taken place, featuring a virtuoso mise en scène, full of conviction."
It recounts the story of a man cornered by fate who, for one night, has to tell stories to prisoners in one of the harshest prisons in the world, the MACA in Abidjan, in order to survive. "It’s an extremely original film that carries within it the very African essence of griot culture." Memento, who has been working on the film since the script stage, is counting on momentum building between screenings, a few days apart, in Venice and Toronto, bearing in mind that the strategy has been to not show it ahead of time. "We think it will be a nice surprise for buyers," Mathieu Delaunay continues, confirming that the film is targeted at "large and medium sized generalist art & essay distributors." With the desire also that it may appeal to Anglo-Saxon countries, sometimes more sensitive to the depiction of minorities on screen. The film is also awaited in Africa, where Philippe Lacôte is a respected author. For Delaunay, market recovery remains a big question mark, despite the many initiatives to ensure that independent distributors have revenues this year and can come back stronger in 2021. "For example, we decided to break the classic hold-backs for our films, by allowing some titles to be released in countries ahead of the country of origin, such as The Climb, which was released in France before the United States, something we hadn't been able to do with Call Me by Your Name. You need to be flexible and open." Night of the Kings will release in France, and worldwide, in 2021.
My Best Part by Nicolas Maury
Presented at TIFF 2020’s Industry Selects (a virtual selection for professionals, which allows the festival to support films unable to be included on the general program, due to the drastic reduction in the number of films presented this year), My Best Part by Nicolas Maury is being sold by Les Films du Losange.
For Alice Lesort, head of sales at Losange, "having the proof of the affection for a first film from such prestigious programming teams as those at Cannes [editor’s note: the film received the label Cannes 2020, ndr], or TIFF is extremely rewarding. And for foreign distributors, it's a very important marker." As yet to be shown physically in festivals (apart from Angoulême), and prior to its French release on October 28, the film was launched internationally during Cannes’ Marché du Film online, via a presentation video in which Nicolas Maury, producer Charles Gillibert (CG Cinéma), and the actors evoked the shoot, coupled with a first international trailer. Two communication elements that caught the attention of international distributors, even though the film was not shown, and helped to trigger pre-sales in Taiwan and Canada. "We target distributors regularly involved with independent French cinema. We never thought of My Best Part as an LGBT film, but there are countries where simply distributing a film with LGBT characters is a political act in itself, so in those cases we will approach distributors who have the necessary networks."
In terms of market recovery, Alice Lesort senses a "great desire," but perceives that distributors are more cautious than ever. "Situations are very different from one territory to another, it's up to us to adapt." Especially in terms of prices. On the VOD side, Lesort notes that its acceleration has not been based on the typology of films that the Losange typically defends. Despite some "virtual" releases (Burning Ghost in the United Kingdom, The Audition in the United States) "VOD does not compensate in any way for the loss of closed theaters and distributors facing difficulties. Platforms that have the means to do so only occasionally take an interest in independent cinema. It remains to be seen whether this will become widespread or whether smaller platforms, such as the excellent Mubi, will follow suit. Only then will VOD be a viable solution."
The International Summer of French Cinema
Nearly 300 French films have been exhibited on foreign screens since the progressive reopening of theaters. This high figure is made up of a large volume of films already out on release, acquired, and reissued titles, and reflects the diversity of French films on offer. The first three months of 2020 focused the spotlight on Portrait of a Lady on Fire and An Officer and a Spy, two examples that contradict the received idea that only comedies, family, and action films cross the one million spectator threshold outside France. As the measures and strategies of governments and professionals change from one country to another, it is more difficult than ever to follow the release of a title in several markets simultaneously or in close succession. In addition, festivals, which often mark the beginning of a film's career in a country, have been cancelled or postponed, thus impacting releases already planned. If we analyze the ten biggest French hits of the last few months, we notice that their presence in the list is mainly due to local achievements. La Belle Epoque and Les Misérables brought together more than 100,000 moviegoers: the former appealed to South Koreans and Australians, the latter caused a sensation in Hong Kong. While Meet The Malawas dominated the Portuguese box office, The Truth mobilized Dutch audiences, while Arab Blues appealed to German moviegoers, without forgetting SamSam, which flew the colors of French animation, particularly in Australia and Poland. As was the case in France, French-speaking markets relied on How to be a Good Wife to bring audiences back to the theaters.
Theaters reopen to quiet business
By Kevin Bertrand (Le Film Français)
Shuttered on March 15, French cinemas were allowed to reopen on June 22, a few weeks ahead of the industry's target schedule. Unlike in many European countries, where reopening was often gradual, the vast majority of French theaters resumed operations at the end of June. Obviously, a strict sanitary protocol was implemented: hydroalcoholic gel was made available, physical distancing was established in the auditoriums (by leaving a separation seat between each spectator or group of spectators) and in foyers, cleaning and disinfection of regularly touched surfaces, and, above all, a mask had to be worn in all circulation areas, which could be removed once seated in the auditorium. Although, initially, attendance figures provided some hope to exhibitors, who were also confronted with a limited supply of films with popular appeal, the summer was finally very complicated for the vast majority of them.
According to the CNC, in the months of July and August 2020, French cinemas would have seen a 66.5% drop in admissions compared to the summer of 2019 – which, despite everything, means they have fared better than the majority of European countries. Hence the economic difficulties that many exhibitors are currently facing, awaiting concrete measures after the announcement of the financial bolstering of the CNC to the tune of €165 million. Health regulations have also been strengthened since August 29, and wearing face coverings is now mandatory inside auditoriums, in addition to social distancing in areas where the virus is actively circulating.