France has a history of celebrating American movies, beginning with the Cahiers du Cinema crowd post-WWII and continuing to this day with the Deauville American Film Festival. But even within that context, the Champs-Élysées Film Festival provides something new: an opportunity for American independent film to find a commercial life in France.
An Industry Vet Spreads the Love
In recent years, France has become an oversaturated beehive when it comes to new releases. For this reason, the French producer, distributor and exhibitor Sophie Dulac created the festival two years ago to showcase French and American cinema alike in the hopes that the exposure can lead to longer theatrical releases.
This isn’t just a pipe dream: Dulac holds a uniquely influential spot in the French film industry: She’s the director of five major venues in Paris (L’Arlequin, Le Majestic Passy, Le Reflet Médicis, L’Escurial and Le Majestic Bastille), all part of her network of five independent cinemas called Écrans de Paris (Screens of Paris), which also show the films from the festival that are lucky enough to be distributed in her home country.
Though the two festivals don’t consider each other rivals, and the 40-year-old Deauville has major seniority over the three-year-old Champs-Élysées, there are key distinctions between the two. While Deauville shows all American films with no genre distinction, Champs-Élysées presents only American indies that have not yet gained distribution in France or other international territories. “These independent American film directors do not find an audience in their own country, where the audiences prefer blockbusters,” said Chantal Dulac, one of the festival’s programmers. “Here in France, we have a public for independent art-house movies.”
As nice as that sounds on paper, it’s not a hard-and-fast rule: Sundance’s 2013 winner “Fruitvale Station,” for example, flopped in France (its cumulative box office gross was $247,770).
With upwards of 15 films from around the world hitting Parisian theaters each week, non-Hollywood U.S. titles can often get lost in the fray, especially when this year, the gallic comedy “Qu’est-ce que nous avons fait au bon Dieu?” holds the top place at the box office — and “X-Men: Days of Future Past,” the fourth.
The festival rectifies that oversight with its American competition program, which culls from Sundance as well as Toronto, Tribeca, Austin, Newport Beach, New Orleans, BFI London, Indie Memphis and many others.
This year’s American Feature Film Competition is made up of nine feature and documentary films, including “1982” by Tommy Oliver, Claudia Myers’ “Fort Bliss,” Gillian Robespierre’s “Obvious Child,” Drew Tobia’s “See You Next Tuesday” and Evan Buxbaum’s “Sun Belt Express.” Moreover, the festival also showcases bigger American titles such as “A Million Ways to Die in the West,” “Kill Your Darlings,” and Clint Eastwood’s “Jersey Boys,” among many others.
Making the Industry Take Action
The festival has gained traction in the industry with its “U.S. in Progress” program, a joint initiative of the Wroclaw American Film Festival in Poland, the Champs-Élysées Film Festival and Black Rabbit Film. The first and only professional event dedicated to independent American cinema in France, it’s made up of two yearly encounters during two different festivals: Paris in June and Wroclaw in October.
For the third edition of “U.S. in Progress” in Paris and in the framework of the Champs-Élysées Film Festival, four works in progress have been selected and screened to around forty sales agents, distributors, heads of festivals and European sellers. Due to the dominant position of American cinema at all the film markets in Europe, this program allows the circulation and distribution of American indies on the old continent.
Moreover, the festival has joined forces with the Les Arcs Film Festival to create the Paris co-production village, a new development and financing platform for feature film projects selected from all over the world that aims to encourage film industry professionals to invest in international co-productions.
The festival has also gotten involved with the restoration of classic American films. The topic of film restoration by digital technology was tackled during Keanu Reeves’ master class following the screening of “Side by Side,” a film he produced. In cooperation with TCM, the festival has showed a wide variety of restored classics such as “Saturday Night Fever,” “Cutter’s Way,” “North by Northwest,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” and “Mean Streets,” among others.
It is too early to say how this third edition has impacted the future of U.S. indies in France, but it has certainly given them more visibility, especially to those programmed at the festival. Already two films have found a distributor (Drew Tobia’s “See You Next Tuesday” and Gillian Robespierre’s “Obvious Child”) and the future is looking very bright for this year’s winner, Claudia Myer’s “Fort Bliss.” Vincent Grashaw’s “Coldwater”, in competition last year, will be hitting French theaters on July 9 and Michael Tully’s “Ping Pong Summer” (a U.S. in Progress finalist in 2013 also screened as a pre-premiere at this year’s festival), a week later.
With its foray into the industry and successful and steadily growing three editions, it’s safe to assume that the Champs-Élysées Film Festival is gearing up to become a hot spot for American independent films in the near future.