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Daniela Elstner • Managing director, UniFrance

"The variety of our films is wider than almost anywhere else in the world"


- UniFrance’s new managing director, Daniela Elstner, examines the new challenges involved in promoting French cinema abroad in a rapidly changing distribution context

Daniela Elstner • Managing director, UniFrance

With just two days to go until the 22nd French Film Meetings in Paris (unfolding from 16-20 January), we met with Daniela Elstner, the new managing director of UniFrance, who has held her post within the agency promoting French film abroad (presided over by Serge Toubiana) since October.

Cineuropa: What are your priorities in this new role?
Daniela Elstner: UniFrance boasts real expertise, which I’m not looking to overhaul, but we do have to think about the best way to adapt our promotional activities to the current changes taking place within film distribution.  On the traditional side, in terms of distributers, cinema releases and festivals, we need to strengthen our activities and maintain our effectiveness within a tight budgetary context. But we also need to juggle this with new developments, such as worldwide releases on online platforms. What role do we play when a film is bought by Netflix Worldwide, for example? Today, Netflix is in great need of support; they’ve probably realised that festivals are beneficial for platform releases too, given the presence of filmmakers and actors at these events. But UniFrance is here to serve its members (producers, artists and exporters), so to what extent do they want us to help them and what marketing clout do we actually have vis-à-vis online platforms? Should we be putting together a package of French films and offering them to platforms under a common banner? Some are favourable towards the idea, others not so much, because they think it would result in a ghettoisation of French film, which isn’t necessary given that each French film is capable of standing alone. These are the types of questions we’ll be thinking about over the coming years. But let’s not forget that the reason why online platforms are interested in our films, and why our feature films are well represented within these platforms, is because we have always maintained a very strong presence in cinemas; because online platforms are familiar with French films, which isn’t the case for works hailing from other countries.

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Initiatives of ours, such as MyFrenchFilmFestival, are also very important. We might be able to broadcast this online festival to a greater extent in certain territories, in the same way that we might also be able to bring our Young French Cinema programme to life in other forms across other platforms; a programme which currently allows newly released French films to be watched directly in the US via a platform offering films selected by us.

In terms of the performance of French cinema abroad, should we be prioritising a certain type of film?
The market will always be one step ahead of us; it’s changing and that’s a good thing. We’re there to support, not to dictate. What we can and must do is ensure that French films are seen by potential buyers, create a desire for French film, make people aware of its existence by bolstering our work with the international press, not just on a film by film basis but in a more general manner. The variety of our films is wider than almost anywhere else in the world, and we are successful in exporting our films, both big and small, which is something even the Americans struggle to do. But, with regard to this diversity, how do we allow it to exist today in its entirety? The festivals which UniFrance organises abroad are crucial vehicles, because they’re more or less premiere-based events, showcasing films which have already been bought, which helps with promotion: journalists are interested in them because the films are going to be released. We also add a few non-distributed films to round off the line-up.

Even today, some films can surprise us, and this is where we need to lend support. There were some wonderful examples of this in 2019, with films such as Les Misérables [+see also:
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by Ladj Ly which very few professionals in France would have expected to achieve the sales figures it did, across 50 territories.

Which geographical zones offer good growth potential for French film?
Latin America is a territory where we need a strong presence. We’re redoubling our efforts in this area, mainly through local festivals whom we can lend support to; because film is on the rise in Mexico, Peru, Colombia etc.

In Europe, French films do well, but nothing is a given, so we must take care not to neglect these countries, especially Italy, Germany and Spain. We already organise quite a few things there and we’ll be continuing in this vein.

Since last year, it’s become more complicated in China as a result of stricter censorship. It’s a problem, because it’s a huge market, but political obstacles are complicating matters. One of the best ways of getting around this obstacle is to enter into co-productions, such as those in development at present. Nevertheless, above all, I hope that the French public authorities will continue their dialogue with the Chinese authorities to encourage this market, which is enjoying huge expansion, to open up to the diveristy of foreign productions - just like the French market, which is a safe haven welcoming films from all around the world.

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(Translated from French)

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