PRAGUE: Slovak/Czech/Hungarian distributor Ivan Hronec of Film Europe and Unifrance’s CEE guru Joel Chapron kicked off the 17th edition of the expanded Festival of French Films in Prague with a pre-premiere screening of Benoit Jacquot’s Three Hearts. Jacquot is also attending the festival which is honouring him with screening of eight of his films in total.
Hronec told FNE that the film was one of eight French features distributed by Film Europe screening in the event which runs through 26 November in five Czech cities.
The festival is the only one sponsored by Unifrance in the Central European region. “The Czech market is an important one for the French film industry,” Chapron told the crowd of dignitaries at the opening night ceremonies. The growing festival registered 21,000 admissions for the 2013 edition. As a part of its expansion it added a Czech Critics Choice, which screens French films not already picked up for distribution in the Czech Republic.
Forty French films were released in the Czech Republic in 2013, compared with 47 Czech films and 69 films from all other European territories combined, with French films accounting for 393,000 admissions. The number is on target to skyrocket in 2014. Chapron told FNE that through September there have been nearly 464,000 admissions.
“French films are in second or third place in every CEE territory,” Chapron told FNE. Aside from that, there’s no commonality to France’s success across the region. Chapron pointed out, as an example, that the top grossing French film varies from country to country, perhaps not surprisingly given the large number of films released in the leading territories. Hungary tops the list with 44 French films released in 2013, followed by Slovakia with 41.
The Slovak phenomenon can be attributed in part to Film Europe, which is the only direct buyer for the country; in all other cases, French films are bought by Czech companies who then distribute them in Slovakia.
Elsewhere in CEE, the Baltics are emerging as a new point of interest for Unifrance. “In Latvia we saw the biggest increase in French films. There’s a big presence of French cinema in the Baltics now,” Chapron said. “ Latvian distribution company Acme is the one big buyer in the Baltics who buys for all three countries,” he added.
Hungary is another changing landscape. Where there used to be only two or three distribution companies buying French films, now there are 12. Unifrance sponsored a French film festival in Budapest for 13 years before switching to a new promotion strategy of sending French film artists to promote individual films. “"Unifrance has hired a very professional Hungarian press attache who knows how to attract journalists to interview French artists, even when some of them are unknown in Hungary. The regular presence of French directors and actors in Budapest has a serious impact on the image of French cinema in this country,” Chapron said. “We supported 20 releases over four years this way,” he said. In the past ten years, Unifrance has doubled the number of French films released in Hungary. Chapron is considering offering the same initiative in the Czech Republic.
Elsewhere in the region Slovenia boasts the largest market share for French films at 4.9 percent, while Romania, considered a francophone country, surprisingly comes in at a disappointing 1.8 percent, with piracy still an issue there as well as in neighboring Bulgaria.
Prague is likely to hold onto its unique Unifrance profile for now. Chapron told FNE, “There are no new actions planned.” Instead, Unifrance will continue to build its relationships with leading international festivals in the region, including Warsaw FF, New Horizons and Karlovy Vary, as well as Sofia IFF.