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After Sarasota, role of French Film Office is questioned.

The Fourth French Film Festival in Sarasota, Florida, proved beyond a doubt that the French have finally learned two bitter lessons.

One is that, like it or not, the American theatrical market continues to be largely closed to them, and is not apt to open up in the near future except for English-language co-productions.

Number two is that the French industry's frequent argument that the Americans' considerable theatrical take in France merits some sort of reciprocal U.S. effort to promote French movies in the States, continues to fall on deaf ears.

When asked about this, Daniel Toscan du Plantier, the head of Unifrance, which co-finances the Sarasota event along with the state of Florida and the town of Sarasota (to the combined tune of some $60,000 or more) shrugged his shoulders and remarked, "It's hopeless. It just isn't going to happen."

Two years ago, in a last-ditch effort to improve the fortunes of the French in the U.S., du Plantier - on the initiative of Jack Valenti, the MPAA president - led a delegation of French producers to meet with U.S. studio heads, arguing that Hollywood should help widen the showing of French product in the U.S. The group was received politely, but the results were nil.

At that time, the French share of the American box office still stood at around 2.5 percent, despite the efforts of the French Film Office in New York, which seeks -after fashion -to rouse press interest in Gallic pictures. It's now down to less than one per cent.

Sarasota represents the annual pinnacle of the attempt to establish the new French films, both with the press and with the American distributors. During past festivals the French Film Office, run by Catherine Verret, failed quite spectacularly to generate closer French producer and director contacts with the Americans brought to Sarasota for that very purpose. The office has now sent out questionnaires to U.S. exhibitors and distributors to gauge industry reaction to its activities.

This year, apparently learning their lesson, the French improved their act somewhat, according to the Americans who made the trip to sunny (though chilly) Sarasota. However, a number of them noted that the French-American "barrier" continued to be up, with the French largely sticking to themselves. The Festival organizers skipped the traditional Saturday night dinner, previously one of the social occasions where the French and the Americans mingled.

The new French product, according to participants, was for the most part interesting, and some of it was deemed potentially commercial on the art circuit. There was a hospitality suite on the beach, well-stocked with food and drinks and open at all hours, an inviting place for American and French representatives to meet and talk. The press service provided by the Cline & White p.r. agency, hesitatingly cooperative at best in New York, improved on the spot.

Marcie Blum, co-president of Sony Pictures Classics said she found Sarasota "valuable", and smoother in its operation than in the past because of the relaxed environment.

Similarly, Rosine Handelman, partner in the key MK2 firm, also praised the arrangements which, she felt, stimulated more useful contacts between the Americans and the French, to an extent unknown -and not particularly encouraged - at Sarasota in the past.

Ralph Donnelly, executive vice president of City Cinema, which runs a number of New York's most prestigious art houses, stated he was surprised by the quality of a number of the French films shown.

It became obvious at Sarasota that video is providing a new revenue stream for the French in the U.S., though the amounts involved are not considered significant.

Indications are that Sarasota will be ongoing in '93 despite the fact that the Florida cash has run out.
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Title Annotation:French Film Festival in Sarasota, Florida
Publication:Video Age International
Date:Jan 1, 1993
Words:625
Previous Article:Catch word for FIPA means more than "quality." (Festival International de Programmes Audiovisuels)
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