And the honneur goes to …

Like Oscars, French film nods give small pics a boxoffice boost

An ever-growing glut of nods dished out in France and the challenge of winning what is still regarded by most industry players here as the ultimate nod — an Oscar — is still focusing distributors minds here.

Pathe President Jerome Seydoux, Gallic distributor of the Oscar-nominated director Julian Schnabel's "The Diving Bell and the Butterfly," certainly knows how to manipulate nominations at home and abroad.

"All the prizes in France are very 'French,' whereas American prizes are more global. The whole world talks about the Oscars, not the (main French prize) Cesar," Seydoux told The Hollywood Reporter. "I think the success of the film at the Golden Globes, the Oscars and in Hollywood is very important."

So did this year's ample number of prizes in Gaul, coupled with Hollywood's own wave of annual accolades, affect boxoffice results or DVD sales?

After a disappointing first run in Gallic theaters last May, Seydoux's outfit rereleased "Diving Bell" on 20 screens Feb. 20, just two days before the Cesar awards, picking up business ahead of this year's Oscar ceremony.

Organizers of the Cesars are not worried about competition from an ever-growing glut of nods dished out or the challenge of being noticed among all the Oscar hype.

"Our voters can look to the other prizes. The more other awards there are, the better — as long as there aren't any after us! We want to be the last one. We want to finish off the awards season with the Cesar awards," Alain Rocca, Secretary of France's Academy of Film Arts and Sciences, said.

A glance at the French awards calendar highlights just how busy the season is in the run-up to the Oscars. And how long.

The Gallic awards season kicked off on Dec. 12 with Abdellatif Kechiche's "The Secret of the Grain" nabbing the 65th annual Louis Delluc prize.

Kechiche's immigrant drama was also among the big winners at this year's Jan. 13 Lumiere nods, dubbed "the French Golden Globes" because foreign journalists based in Paris vote for the 13-year-old awards.

Then, on Feb. 11, the French press had their say at the 3-year-old Globes du Cristal at a ceremony at Paris' famed Lido theater and broadcast on entertainment cable channel Paris Premiere.

And let's not forget the second Jacques Prevert prize for best screenplay, the ninth Etoiles d'Or de la presse, the Film Francais Trophies given to boxoffice success stories and industry personalities of the year, and the third "Young Talents" prize for the next generation of Gallic talents.

"We're not in the same category as the other prizes. They have no history," French Academy president Alain Terzian says. "They're just excuses for a televised event. The Cesars have a history. The Cesars were initially created out of respect and admiration for the Oscars — as a sort of European extension of the Oscars. So if people say they resemble each other, all the better."

Pathe also distributed Kechiche's Cesar-winning "The Secret of the Grain," also nominated for a slew of French awards. It has already sold nearly 700,000 tickets and has seen its theatrical coverage double since its release Dec. 12 on just 90 screens, the same day it won the Louis Delluc prize.

The Delluc fete catapulted the otherwise run-of-the-mill indie picture release into the spotlight, where it enjoyed a long stay straight through last Friday's Cesar nod.

Pathe increased the number of screens from 161 to 180 earlier this week.

If anything, Pathe, Gaul's most award-heavy distributor this season, certainly can't complain about the influx of awards ceremonies both at home and abroad. "We certainly need a lot of space for all these prizes," Seydoux said.