'Round da Way' works for cult following

Film buyers lining up for animated feature

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CANNES -- Disney/Pixar's "Up" might be getting most of the press, but a group of animated French hoodlums from the 'burbs is managing to make some noise on the Croisette.

Eight years in the making, Albert Pereira-Lazaro and Emmanuel Klotz's "Round da Way" is set to hit French theaters June 17 and is making its way around the international market. A who's who of French talent -- including Vincent Cassel, Diane Kruger, Gilles Lellouche and French female rap star Diam -- have lent their voices to the project.

French sales agent Bac Films said the U.S. studios have been lining up to see the film, an adaptation of a French miniseries, and that there is "strong interest" stateside. Presales have begun among smaller territories, but Bac anticipates a cult following for the unprecedented project following the success of such more adult cartoons as "Persepolis" and "Renaissance."

"It's a film that doesn't have any references, which is hard to sell to producers," Bac sales chief Camille Neel said in an interview, adding, "There's strong interest at the highest level of the U.S. studios."

The cult series originally aired in France on pay TV networks Canal Plus and France 2. It expanded to the U.K.'s Channel 4 as "Homiez" and aired in the U.S. on MTV in 2005. The film features musical opening credits composed by De La Soul.

The story about the daily lives of likeable anti-heroes features suburban characters ages 15-25 and is aimed at a 15-35 audience.

"It's really a generational film -- from the MTV generation to the 25-35 crowd who grew up with De La Soul," Neel said.

The series has seen success in the age of mobile viewing and VOD, already totaling more than 20 million viewers in those formats this year and more than 50,000 visitors to the film's Web site after only a month online.

The €8 million ($10.8 million) film is co-produced by Studio 37, a subsidiary of French telecom Orange. Studio 37 put up €2 million alongside Canal Plus and France 2, with state aid from CNC.

Producers are hoping "Round's" high visibility in Cannes will catapult sales.

"We have huge expectations in terms of the film's international presence in Cannes," Millimages producer Philippe Gompel said.

Millimages invested €1 million in the project and went through 25 different scripts before settling on a final story. "We took a bet on the potential of the film -- we really want to start a franchise," Gompel said.

Producers will release an album to coincide with the film, featuring tunes from De La Soul and an original rap from Cassel, the actor's first musical recording.

"It's really a multiplatform project," Gompel said. "Everyone talks about multiplatform projects now, and there really aren't that many. This is unique."

"Round" screened Sunday night in Cannes, complete with a visit from the film's voice cast, including Cassel.

"It's going to become a cult film," Neel said. "It will be the reference movie for today's hip-hop culture."