UniFrance: The French film industry’s not so secret weapon

Isabelle Giordano, the general director of the organization in charge of promoting French cinema around the world, talks to Flix about the ‘recipe for its success’.

It takes more than just making good films. The success and worldwide advancement of French cinema, has been accomplished by means of continuous and very focused work, the greatest part of which has been carried out by uniFrance. Last April, Isabelle Giordano took over as the organization’s general director and is now one of the main figures providing guidelines for French cinema’s extroversion and global propagation. Giordano, is  a journalist and film critic and has presented film-themed TV shows for years. Along with uniFrance’s new president, the director Jean-Paul Salomé, Giordano has taken on a truly important task, continuing the work of a long list of distinguished predecessors.

UniFrance is not a new organization. It was founded in 1949 and since then has defended and passionately promulgated what has become one of the main features of French cultural identity: the country’s cinema. Since 1949, many things have changed, as Giordano explains, but certain things have remained the same. “We are proud and happy to see that all over the world French films are still popular. I was in Korea a few months ago and people told me about Truffaut, Robert Bresson and Romy Schneider as well as ‘La vie d’Adele’. Apart from the satisfaction this creates, it also brings with it a realization: that there is a continuation, a tradition that still remains strong and a satisfaction towards French cinema around the world.”

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None of these things would have been possible if French cinema hadn’t developed ways of getting its films to the world’s audiences. This has been accomplished with the coordinated efforts of uniFrance. The organization, which functions under the supervision of the CNC (Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée), has an annual budget of nine million euros and employs 35 people. These numbers may seem impressive, but so are the results of the work it carries out. At the moment, France is the second biggest exporter of films, after the US. Two thirds of the films produced annually are distributed to at least one other territory. An audience of 65 million viewers watches French films each year, on average, and annually French movies make 350 million euros in receipts from cinemas abroad. The French film industry’s success is a result of hard work and diversity. As Giordano explains, “This is the key. It isn’t limited to art-house films, but rather encompasses films of all genres, including action movies, comedies, documentaries, animation … Diversity is our advantage.” The process also involves challenges. “We have to promote French cinema not in one block but we have to find different way according to each genre. I am thinking about the best way to have a diverse communication adapted for each genre.”

Among the tasks of uniFrance is following the course of French films in different countries and working with local distributors in order to find better ways of promoting them. To accomplish this, uniFrance supports more than 60  international feature-film festivals, helps organize more than 80 French film festivals annually, and is responsible for over 300 trips made by film professionals around the world every year for the promotion of their films. And, as if all this wasn’t enough, every January uniFrance hosts a meeting in Paris, ‘Rendez-vous with French Cinema’, where, according to Giordano, “400 buyers, 150 journalists from foreign press, 50 French journalists and 170 French artists (actors and directors) congregate (to promote their films)”.

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Even though French cinema continues to exert a certain je ne sais quoi which makes it appealing globally, Giordano is the first to point out that huge changes have occurred. “The world is moving, people don’t watch movies only in theaters, but also on computers and cell phones. This is the reason why we have to adapt our communication, always. My goal is to bring uniFrance into the digital world. This is our main priority.”

One of the newer means of accomplishing this and staying ahead of the curve is the internet-based MyFrenchFilmFestival, which is being held on-line from January 17 to February 17, for a fourth consecutive year. Giordano says  “It is something we believe in and have been working hard to develop, since we all understand the importance of the internet, of video on demand and of claiming a share of digital platforms. There are many obstacles that we must get over, like, for instance, complex issues of copyright in certain territories, but it is nevertheless something we are very interested in.”

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The way uniFrance works and the results it brings have transformed the organization and made its success something to aspire to, even if there are not many countries that realize the importance of promoting a ‘product’ like cinema, in such a consistent way. Beyond the financial aspects of the cost of promoting a national cinema abroad, the example of the French film industry and of uniFrance makes clear that, funding alone, however necessary, is not enough. As Giordano explains “If French film’s global success story teaches us one thing, it is that if you want to successfully sell your product to an international audience, you must think both artistically and commercially. You need to propose an alternative to US movies and to Hollywood. And especially, you should be proud of the films you make and your country’s cinema.”