Former Bac boss is in new Pacte

Labadie's company makes international debut at EFM

The movie industry can be a cruel arena, and seasoned French campaigner Jean Labadie knows that better than most. Founder of Gallic distributor Bac Films, which he grew into one of France's most respected independents, Labadie recently steered some apparently difficult films to spectacular numbers. Last year, Bac carried Nadine Labaki's affectionate femme-driven comedy "Caramel" to 500,000 admissions, making it the most successful Arabic-language film in France. The company also took Cristian Mungiu's Romanian abortion drama "4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days" — winner of last year's Palme d'Or — to an impressive 350,000 admissions.

Then, in September, Labadie found himself ousted from the company he created by Roch Lener, president of animation studio Millimages, which became Bac's main shareholder in 2004.

Now Labadie has bounced back with a new company, Le Pacte, which will be making its market debut at the European Film Market. "Berlin is the first market where the company will be really active in terms of international sales, co-productions and acquisitions," Labadie says.

Le Pacte's initial sales slate includes "La Belle Personne," a contemporary adaptation of the then-scandalous 17th century French novel "La Princesse de Cleves," directed by Christophe Honore and starring Louis Garrel, Clotilde Hesme and Lea Seydoux; and "Los Bastardos," Mexican director Amat Escalante's tale of two illegal immigrants seeking work in Los Angeles who find themselves hired to kill a man's wife. Labadie says. Le Pacte is handling French distribution and world sales on both titles.

The company is also repping world sales outside France, Spain and the U.S. on Donal MacIntyre's documentary "A Very British Gangster," about one of England's most dangerous crime families.

Le Pacte expects to distribute six pictures on home turf in its first year, before hitting a cruising speed of about a dozen annually beginning in 2009. The initial lineup for 2008 reflects Labadie's long-standing talent relationships. These include Jim Jarmusch, whose upcoming Spanish-set road movie "The Limits of Control," produced by Focus Features, will be a Pacte release in France. Isaach de Bankole plays the main character in the movie, which is shooting in Madrid, Seville and Almeria with a plethora of star cameos expected.

Other 2008 releases include Iranian helmer Hana Makhmalbaf's "Buddha Collapsed Out of Shame," the tale of children caught up in the violence of contemporary Afghanistan, which screens in the Berlin sidebar Generation Kplus, and Italian Mafia tale "Gomorra," directed by Matteo Garrone. Le Pacte also has just acquired French distribution on "Young @ Heart," a documentary directed by Stephen Walker about a senior citizens' choral group from Massachusetts who cover contemporary rock songs.

The ouster from Bac was not the first tough knock Labadie has faced. Bac came close to bankruptcy a few years ago when the French pay TV market took a downturn. Around the same time, Miramax terminated its output deal with the company in a bitter legal wrangle, since settled amicably. Millimages stepped in as a white knight in 2004, with promises to integrate Bac's theatrical and video expertise with its animation and documentary activities. But the differing cultures of one company rooted in art house distribution and another centered on mainstream children's TV programs didn't always mesh.

Labadie's analysis of what happened is that he and Millimages' chief, Lener, didn't see eye to eye on much. "There were some strategic differences, some about financial matters, and some personal," he says, adding, "It's never nice to have a shareholder conflict."

But he seems fully fired up for a new adventure in the screen trade. "Bac was quoted on the Bourse, has a catalog of 300 films and was quite a heavy structure. So it's very exciting to launch a new company with a small, flexible team," Labadie says. "Also, having stopped for three months after a long career in distribution, you meet a lot of new people in different areas instead of just film industry people who only hang out with film industry people. It changes the way you look at things."

Le Pacte started life with initial capital of €1.5 million ($2.2 million) raised through the sale of a 5% chunk of Bac, plus a credit line. The company has just moved into premises in northeast Paris. Labadie is discussing potential partnerships with industry players — companies with a film catalog interested in a possible joint venture — as well as pure financial partners.

He doesn't rule out the possibility of making a bid to repurchase Bac Films, in which he still holds a 10% stake (compared to Millimages' 25%). "It's not my first priority, but if it was for sale, anything is possible," he says.