French fests do double duty in U.K.
EmptyLONDON -- British cinemas have taken on a decidedly French accent in recent weeks, with London playing host to not one but two film events celebrating Gallic cinema.
This year's French double-whammy only came about because the short romance between the two events had stalled and organizers decided to play host to their own attempts at seducing audiences.
The two events -- A Rendez-Vous With French Cinema and French Film Festival U.K. -- divorced after a brief dalliance in 2006 but divided up future audience seduction in a very industry-savvy way.
The elder French Film Festival U.K., which ran for three weeks in London as well as theaters in such major cities as Manchester, Edinburgh and Glasgow, gave audiences the opportunity to see French films that have no U.K. distributor in place.
The upstart Rendez-Vous, meanwhile, sold tickets for French titles with the support of their U.K. distributors over a heady weekend of French love that ended at the beginning of April with Leconte's comedy "My Best Friend" (Mon meilleur ami), distributed by Optimum Releasing.
As FFF U.K. co-organizer Richard Mowe put it: "After a link last year, the events now have regained their individual identities and separate time slots."
Both events enjoyed the support of French promotional body Unifrance as well as the French Institute, and both sold tickets, conducted gala events and attracted journalists, commentators and audiences to enjoy diverse offerings from French filmmakers.
While cineastes and journos alike were enjoying the Gallic windfall, across town, a British-based company run by an Oscar-winning producer was uniting with one of France's most high-profile international sales and financing houses.
Producer Jeremy Thomas and his sales and financing operation, HanWay Films, and Celluloid Dreams principal Hengameh Panahi tied the knot to form Dreamachine, arguing that the marketplace for selling distribution rights to foreign-language movies is increasingly hostile.
At the launch, Thomas noted that foreign-language films have no problem "selling out the theaters they play in" during festivals, but if you put the same titles out under normal, non-festival conditions, the auditoriums "were all but empty."
But everyone remembers the success of "Amelie" and so, despite difficult conditions, it seems the entente cordiale between British audiences and French movie titles can continue. Especially if it's fueled by a red carpet event and a glass of champagne.