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Cannes 2016: French Producers Plot World Domination

Cannes 2016: French Producers Plot World Domination

For years it has been a source of frustration for the leaders of the French film industry that their sophisticated cinema doesn’t always travel. In the U.S., the audience for subtitled films from France has declined dramatically since the salad days of the French New Wave.

But as the new world cinema has gone flat, with multiple financing partners from many countries getting movies made, France has emerged as a dominant force in world cinema production. But it’s not just about French-language movies.

CG Cinema producer Charles Gillibert has supported Canadian wunderkind Xavier Dolan (“Laurence Anyways”) and French auteur Olivier Assayas’ 2015 English-language Cannes competition titles “Clouds of Sils Maria,” starring Juliette Binoche and Cesar-winner Kristen Stewart, and this year’s follow-up, “Personal Shopper,” also starring Stewart (which IFC will release stateside), who can help get a movie financed overseas.

“Actors are powerful, they make it happen or [they don’t],” Gillibert said. “The smart actor has exigence that brings cinema into the industry. Somebody like Kristen in Hollywood creates cinema. I met her on ‘On the Road’ and introduced her to Olivier, building a path between the U.S. and Europe. We have to build those bridges and find people who believe in this strong international cinema. The European industry has to learn how to do this and we have to dialog with the American agencies. I believe that by looking at things, they can change.”

Take French Oscar submission “Mustang.” Writer-director Deniz Gamze Ergüven took her French education and Fémis film school training and looked at what was going on in her birth country Turkey. Gillibert pushed and nurtured the project — often out of his own pocket — recognizing that even though it was a first film, “this is very modern and strong,” he recalled. “Turkey is in the middle of everything.”

Ergüven went to Turkey with a French crew cinematographer to shoot the film, of which Gillibert owned more than 50 percent. The movie played Cannes’ Director’s Fortnight and was a festival hit, released by Cohen Media in the U.S. The producer mounted an impassioned plea to the representatives of the French industry, arguing that the humanist, universal family drama represents the future of cinema. “Let’s talk about this new energy,” he told them. “France needs to see what is new.” They finally chose the festival favorite as the country’s Oscar contender over a strong field of candidates including Cannes Palme d’Or-winner “Dheepan.”

He may be right. Selling in Cannes is “Kings,” Ergüven’s follow-up to “Mustang,” which she has been developing for seven years, presenting it in 2011 as a Cannes L’Atélier co-production event, and researched deeply in LA. She eventually realized that she had to shoot something less ambitious for her first film. Set during the six days of the 1992 Los Angeles riots in the wake of the Rodney King videotaped police beating and arrest, the film stars Halle Berry as the mother to a foster family in beleaguered South Central LA. “When Deniz came out of school, it took time for her to become French,” said Gillibert. “You can feel injustice to be part of a country and embrace a country and not be part of it, feel second rate. When the riots in France happened in 2005, people could relate to what happened years before in Los Angeles.”

Gillibert also produces Gus Van Sant (“Paranoid Park”) and Assayas’ life partner Mia Hansen-Love (“L’Avenir,” “Eden”). “I love directors who want to keep working,” Gillibert said. “Just by looking at them with strength and love, you bring the strength to them and they become very strong. We have one century of the male eye in cinema. The new cinema, the way it’s moving now, comes from women directors.”

At Cannes 2016, French-produced features represent more than half (12) of the Competition titles in the Official Selection, 66% (13) of the films selected for Directors’ Fortnight, and 85% of the films (9) in Competition in Critics’ Week. According to Unifrance, of the 80 features presented in the three main selections, 51 involve French participation in their financing (last year it was 59 out of 93 features), showing how dominant French producers are around the world.

Among other strong producers forging alliances with filmmakers beyond the borders of France are Denis Freyd, who is behind the Belgian Dardenne brothers (“The Unknown Girl”), who are among the producers of Romanian Cristian Mungiu’s latest Cannes Competition film “Graduation,” along with Pascal Caucheteux (Why Not), who also produces the films of Ken Loach, Arnaud Desplechin and Jacques Audiard as well as American Gregg Araki’s “White Bird in a Blizzard.”

Alexandre Guy Mallet’s Mémento has two Competition titles, “The Salesman” from Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi and Bruno Dumont’s “Slack Bay.” Veteran producer Sylvie Pialat not only rushed to complete Alain Guiraudie’s “Staying Vertical” in time for its Cannes Competition debut, but also backed Abderrahmane Sissako’s Cesar-award-winning Oscar nominee “Timbuktu” and Romanian 2015 comedy “The Treasure.” Shellac produced Portuguese director Miguel Gomes’ Cannes 2015 selection “Arabian Nights,” Rouge International supported 2015 Israeli Oscar submission “Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem,” and Le Bureau is behind the Lebanese Cannes selection “Tramontane” as well as Matt Porterfield’s next movie.

France has always had a vital connection to cinema, back to the Lumiere brothers. “But the idea of culture is absolutely universal,” said Gillibert. “So when you talk about culture it has in a certain way no nationality, but it’s very important there is a strong identity and strong roots.We have a new generation of directors who are very international, who learn and move fast. In France we have this system which gives the capacity to the producer to go to these countries and produce.”

Gillibert built up his business from shorts, music videos, CDs and live music performance happenings with digital video, eventually moving into feature films. His airy CG offices in central Paris boast six employees supporting three productions a year. During his recent Los Angeles and Cannes meetings, Gillibert said, he realized that “the independent cinema is different than it was years ago. We can feed this bridge between the U.S. and Europe. Now that’s how we are to reinforce international cinema— by building those bridges.”

With the stylish ghost story “Personal Shopper,” Assayas “didn’t want to stay in a comfortable place,” said Gillibert. “He wanted to jump into films that are new for him in a 100 ways, not to recreate films that exist. ‘Personal Shopper’ is about the idea that things which are invisible are kind of more important than things more visible, and have more consequences in the things that we do in our lives.”

On “Personal Shopper,” after “Sils Maria,” the combination of Assayas and Kristen Stewart made it bankable. “It was tough, because we have a way of working with Olivier that we want to do it now and financing will follow,” said Gillibert. “I have to run ahead of it to build the road in front of the car.”

Gillibert plans to announce in Cannes new English-language projects for Assayas and Hansen-Love, who is prepping a project in India to shoot in December. And he wants to find some rising American independent directors, he said: “In this independent international cinema, I am really eager to make it happen with American independents.”

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