France, the land that coined the term "auteur," is a welcoming market for U.S. arthouse fare. There's even an event -- the Champs-Elysees Film Festival, soon to unspool its second edition along the grand boulevard of the same name -- dedicated to promoting American indie films in France.
As can be expected, American studio pics still dominate. Last year, a mix of releases from the majors -- Sony's "Skyfall," Fox's "Ice Age: Continental Drift 3D" -- and mainstream local comedies dominated Gallic B.O. At 42.7%, U.S. movies' market share just edged French movies' 40.3%, per France's CNC film board.
Distributor Arp Selection scored well with both Margin Call and Beasts of the Southern Wild; Detachment boosted the bottom line for Pretty Pictures; and Ad Vitam profited from Take Shelter.
"French audiences like American auteurs because they are not identified with big studio films," says producer-distributor Sophie Dulac, director of the fest. "American independent films are sometimes financed with few resources even if they have a known cast, and French audiences can empathize with characters or situations."
Detachment proved Pretty Pictures' fourth-best release ever, though topper James Velaise qualifies its success. "Considering ever-increasing P&A spend, the numbers aren't huge. That's what sales agents and producers sometimes don't fully understand," he says.
France is a significant but not huge market for indie fare, repping "less than 10% of income worldwide on our features," says sales agent Matteo Lovadina at Reel Suspects, whose Cannes lineup included Becky Smith's comedy 16 to Life and documentary The Matador.
Amel Lacombe, owner of Paris distrib Eurozoom, recently acquired "Glee" star Chris Colfer's vehicle "Struck by Lightning" and black comedy "Girl Most Likely" (pictured), starring Kristen Wiig. The two bookend the Champs-Elysees event.
Exhibition still reps most U.S. indie films' returns in France, Lacombe says. "If theatrical clicks, that increases DVD and TV sales." But as in other Euro territories, TV sales of U.S. fare are challenging given quotas for TV operators' movie acquisitions.
"This makes minimum guarantees and P&A investment far more risky," Lacombe says.
On the upside, from 2005 through 2012, the number of American films broadcast in France's free-to-air TV market grew 62%, goosed by digital TV services. Last year, 31% of films programmed by leading paybox Canal Plus were American.
However, "VOD is the best way to exploit our U.S. arthouse indie features," Lovadina says.
"There's a ready-made audience for U.S. arthouse movies: VOD will be the solution," says producer Gregory Bernard, who recently launched Paris-based Realitism Distribution to acquire international indie pics.
French release windows are, however, dictated by strict governmental regulation. "Day-and-date releases are illegal. We need to be more flexible," Pretty Pictures' Velaise says.
Elsa Keslassy contributed to this report.