‘Cinema Is Political’: French Sales Agents Confront Global Tensions, Carbon Cutting Amid Rise in International Admissions

Capping a growth year that saw Gallic productions draw 37.4 million global theatrical admissions for a total of $254 million in international receipts, producers and sales agents indicated that geopolitical tensions and eco-responsible transformation would be two of the major stressors on France’s film export business in the months to come.

Speaking at an export panel organized as part of the Unifrance Rendez-Vous in Paris, Les Films du Losange sales chief Alice Lesort outlined her firm’s “case-by-case” approach when selling titles to Russia – which remains an eager and lucrative market, as proven by last year’s admissions figures for Maïwenn’s “Jeanne du Barry” (sold by Goodfellas) and the animated smash “Miraculous: Ladybug & Cat Noir: The Movie” (from ZAG and Mediawan Kids & Family), among others.

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“What happens in the cinema is one thing,” said Lesort. “But once the film has been sold to a TV channel, for example, what’s to say that it won’t be shown before or after a propaganda ad? I mean, at some point, once you’ve sold a film, the buyer can do whatever they want, [and our] level of control is capped.”

And so, following the 2022 invasion of Ukraine, Lesort would put the onus on her filmmakers, letting them decide whether or not they wanted to sell to Russia. Most declined, thus creating a precedent that might be reapplied in an increasingly unsettled world.

“The problem, in fact, has just arisen in Israel as recently as one week ago,” said Lesort. “We had sold a film before the October 7 attacks, and the producer – which is not a French company, by the way – wanted us to break the deal. We opposed, because there was no real argument. [But this goes to show that the situation] is very, very complex, and I don’t think there’s only one catch-all solution.”

While last year’s admission figured showed a marked uptick from the pandemic-era dip, industry delegates didn’t call for a full return to all pre-COVID practices – particularly when it came to concerns about sustainability.

Here too, the question offered no easy answer, as Mediawan Kids & Family president Aton Soumache linked last year’s admissions boost in part to a renewed burst of airfare, as producers and sales reps took off around the world to seal deals with the personal touch unavailable on Zoom.

“We have no choice [but to travel],” said Soumache, whose firm produced last year’s top global earner, “Miraculous.” “Because it’s not just about selling; it’s about understanding how the world works… And I think we’ll never defend our work as well as we do when we’re one to one, face to face with our buyers.”

That being the case, how best could delegates move towards a more ecologically responsible future within industry that casts a hefty carbon footprint?

“Let’s start by getting really concrete and precise data,” said Lesort, arguing for an industry-wide database that could subsequently be used to inform public policy. “Before we put rules [and interdictions] in place… let’s first understand the ins and outs of what it means to replace a flight to Berlin with a train, for example. Let’s better understand those orders of magnitude.”

“Cinema is political,” added The Bureau Sales founder Bertrand Faivre. “It can even be important… So we mustn’t at all underestimate the power and need for us to come together and to break down barriers.”

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