French doors swing open in Asia

Confab added as market becomes key for Gallic product

The Gallic entertainment industry is pushing hard to add "le French touch" to the rapidly expanding Asian market, with TV and film showcases and festivals planned throughout the continent in the coming months. A delegation of as many as 50 French film and TV distributors will meet with Japanese buyers Tuesday-Friday as part of a French Film and TV showcase in Tokyo, organizers TV France International and Unifrance said Thursday.

Asia is a huge market for French TV, with 10% of French TV show sales made to Asian territories. Buyers from Taiwan and South Korea will also be at the showcase, which is based at Tokyo's Hotel ANA and co-sponsored by the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, state-run film body the CNC and film equipment specialist the PROCIREP.

Organizers are placing particular emphasis on the potential for new technologies, including mobile, Internet and high-definition formats. Roundtables have been planned so that French and Japanese professionals can "share their experiences," TV France International said in a statement.

French TV networks including TF1, France Televisions and Arte have signed up for the Asian mission alongside such major Gallic film distributors as Europacorp, Pathe, SND/M6 and StudioCanal.

The event is especially important for Unifrance this year because 2006 saw a plunge in Japanese ticket sales to €1.5 million ($1.97 million), down from €2 million in 2005 and €3 million in 2004.

Margaret Menegoz, president of Unifrance, blames the paucity of movie theaters in Japan for the drop in admissions and aims to take steps to ameliorate distribution of French films in the territory this year.

Unifrance is simultaneously planning a French film festival to run March 16-19 in Japan's capital city to coincide with the market event. Toho, Japan's largest exhibition chain, is a festival partner and will provide the location for more than 15 film screenings in its Tokyo multiplexes.

According to Unifrance, the aim of the fest is "to reach out to new audiences, to bring distributors and exporters together prior to the Hong Kong Filmart and the Cannes film festival, and to boost French films' performance in the Japanese market."

Unifrance also has set up the fourth annual Panorama for French cinema April 26-May 1 in China, co-sponsored by the French Embassy in China and the Chinese Film Office, with the aim of driving the commercial success of its films. The company set up an office in Beijing last year and has since seen its films take in €8 million in boxoffice receipts.

Despite a plunge in ticket sales in Japan, China emerged this year as a key market for Gallic cinema, with close to 3 million spectators for the 10 French films released commercially in the territory.

"When we consider that the Chinese market is very strict, with several import quotas, I consider this performance to be a success," Menegoz said.

The government-funded film promotion organization continues to take strides to send French product to the country. Prolific helmer Luc Besson visited Beijing and Shanghai this year to promote his boxoffice hit "Arthur and the Minimoys."