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Cannes 2021

Industry Report: Distribution, Exhibition and Streaming

At Cannes, experts assess the export potential of French films

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CANNES 2021: The round-table, organised by the CNC, saw the participation of five prestigious speakers repping festivals, exhibitors, distributors and sales agents

At Cannes, experts assess the export potential of French films

On 8 July, the CNC hosted a panel entitled “French Cinema Worldwide: Regaining Markets for Audiences in the Post-pandemic Period” as part of the daily session of talks “L’export et l’attractivité à l’international, un enjeu pour notre industrie cinématographique” (lit. “Overseas Export and Drawing Power, a Challenge for Our Film Industry”). The event took place at the Plage du Gray d'Albion during this year’s Cannes Film Festival (6-17 July).

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After a quick speech by the CNC’s director of European and International Affairs, Mathieu Fournet, Unifrance’s general director and the moderator of the round-table, Daniela Elstner, introduced the five invited speakers – namely, IFC Films president Arianna Bocco, Cinétival general director Edna Epelbaum, Toronto International Film Festival co-director Joana Vicente, Pathé Films president Ardavan Safaee and TF1 international sales director Sabine Chemaly.

Firstly, Safaee stressed the fact that the current shift in distribution had already been taking place before the pandemic, but the outbreak has perhaps contributed to accelerating it. “We lost home-entertainment and DVD business, probably for good, and now most of the pressure is on international theatrical distribution,” he said. Therefore, “International sales are set to gain more and more importance in the future.”

Next, Vicente said how the festival buzz is important for many titles, as “some incredible films skipped the festival release, and then kind of disappeared”. She argued that now, “festivals are more important than ever” for both “established and emerging talent”. She added that, as Toronto follows the North American release schedules, this is often beneficial, but films that don’t secure US distribution are still difficult to distribute through smaller Canadian distributors.

Later, Epelbaum explained how essential it is to involve exhibitors more, as the synergies between producers, distributors and other film professionals are often not sufficient to attract a big enough audience. “We need to start [working together] earlier on; we need to be involved – not in the scriptwriting stage, that’s your job. But once the film is ready, we need to collaborate and decide what kind of audience to focus on. We don’t do that – or, at least, we don’t do that very often.”

Bocco explained how IFC is trying to connect with independent exhibitors – mostly at festivals, when they pick finished films – but also that, in many cases, the support of cinema chains is fundamental. Without it, the firm needs to calculate the financial risks of distributing something only through independent theatres and without the support of major chains. Besides this, she added, “There’s a lot more competition now with ‘stay home and watch Netflix on your sofa’, and even with gaming.” As a response to this trend, “In the USA, we’re veering towards community-based theatres. [...] I’d really welcome that change, as we’d gain more of a local audience, and a more engaged one, too.”

Speaking about the help provided by data insights (on which platforms rely heavily), Safaee explained that we cannot ignore their role in creating efficient investments, but also how “it’s really hard to obtain unified data; it requires a lot of tech solutions and investment”.

On the topic of festival hybridisation, Vicente said that, while many events are more radical, she values how “digital can be a tool to bring more inclusivity and help people who cannot attend festivals”. She also praised the efficient communication and exchange of ideas that competing international festivals shared throughout the pandemic, while trying to figure out “what the future will look like”.

A short open discussion rounded off the event, during which Chemaly pointed out that we must learn how “to travel less, but with more quality”, and gain full awareness of the new benefits brought by digitalisation, whilst Epelbaum addressed the creation of more “bridges” within the industry and solutions to tackle the lack of diversity and gender equality, especially at the management level, which would also “represent the audience more fairly”. Finally, Fournet hoped to see “more French films in future, made by or produced with France”.

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