France Telecom takes stab at film


PARIS -- Calling all filmmakers. Gallic telecom France Telecom has officially launched its film production subsidiary, Studio 37, with a brief to invest in movie and catalog rights and co-productions. The new division is spearheaded by film industry vet Frederique Dumas, who has been busy hiring a team. With France Telecom's big bucks and Dumas' years of production experience, Studio 37 is poised to become a major industry player.

The film division is part of the telecom's global strategy to move from being a network access company to a content and service provider. The group already offers Internet, mobile and television services, so cinema was seen as the logical next step.

Yet Dumas has a difficult task before her. Not only will she need to beat out major industry players for film rights and produce a wide range of quality films, but she'll also be busy convincing industry executives that a phone company is capable of producing quality motion pictures.

Dumas has an impressive track record as an independent producer, with credits including Danis Tanovic's Oscar-winning war satire "No Man's Land" and Milcho Manchevski's Venice Golden Lion winner "Before the Rain," as well as cult French hit "Dobermann" from Jan Koenen.

She has also trod the corridors of political power and tasted studio experience, having served as adviser on cinema for the French culture and communications ministry, adviser for the Ile de France region, chairman of the producers' union and the cinematographic industry liaison office, as well as head of development at Polygram Audiovisuel.

France Telecom's move into the film business has prompted mixed emotions among both major local movie houses and independent producers. "They have nothing to do with cinema," grumbled one independent filmmaker.

Other Gallic producers, however, are waiting to see what Studio 37 has to offer. "All new players in the film world are welcome. We don't know what type of films they'll be producing yet, but they're certainly welcome in the field," says David Poirot of Thelma Films, which produced the recent "Avenue Montaigne."

"Optimistically, we can hope that Studio 37 will become another funding source for independents," says Bankable Films' Marc Fiszman, currently in preproduction on the Jean-Claude Van Damme starrer "Van Dammed."

Dumas says she hopes that Studio 37 will become "a genuine partner in production." For the moment, she is focusing only on French and European co-productions, and plans to produce about a dozen films per year.

"We want to finance a variety of genres and budgets. Our slate will feature everything from smaller budgets to big-budget co-productions," she says.

Despite keen industry interest in the company's plans, Dumas isn't in any rush to release project info. The company is currently co-producing Michel Houellebecq's adaptation of his novel "La possibilitie d'une ile," which recently began shooting in Spain, but is keeping mum on the rest of its agenda until later in the year.