After keeping a fairly low profile as president of France’s leading commercial network TF1 Group for seven years, Gilles Pelisson, the discreet Harvard-educated executive, is ready for showtime. He has been propelled into the spotlight to promote French film and TV in his new role as president of Unifrance, succeeding Serge Toubiana last summer.
While participating in his first big gig for Unifrance at the Rendez-Vous showcase in Paris (which wraps Tuesday), Pelisson showed he had enough swagger to mingle with French stars and industry professionals alike, as well as deliver speeches about the prospects for French movies and TV series with both authority and conviction.
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In the space of one week during the Rendez-Vous, he handed out the French Film Award to “By the Grace of God” actor Melvil Poupaud, and presented Turkish director Nuri Bilge Ceylan with the best international co-production prize at the Lumiere Award on Monday. The week-long Rendez-Vous welcomed more than 40 film sales companies and more than 450 international distributors.
While Pelisson, who previously worked in top positions at Accor and Disney, isn’t a cinephile like his predecessor, he’s been involved in the film and TV world at a macro level previously in his career. During his tenure at TF1, the group bought Newen, which has become one of France’s largest TV production and distribution studios, as well as Blue Spirit, an animation studio. At TF1, Pelisson was also involved in co-producing movies that were acquired by the network for a free-to-air window.
Pelisson is joining Unifrance at a time of transition for the French film industry, which has almost recovered from the pandemic with a 33% year-on jump at the local box office and a 38.5% surge in global admissions with 37.4 million tickets sold (an estimated $256 million). Yet, that export figure is still down 19% on 2019, pre-COVID. But Pelisson says it doesn’t reflect accurately the international success of French films because a number of huge hits were available on streaming services whose numbers are not taken into account by Unifrance.
“‘Miraculous: Ladybug & Cat Noir, the Movie’ was such a hit but it was only available on Netflix in many territories, rather than in theaters, and since Netflix, like other streaming services, don’t release figures, we have to leave them out,” says Pelisson, adding that the number of admissions could potentially surpass 40 million with the inclusion of these films.
Reflecting on the top 10 highest grossing films overseas, Pelisson noted the breadth of French movies that have thrived internationally, from animated films, such as “Miraculous” and “Pattie et la colère de Poséidon,” to action adventure, such as “The Three Musketeers: D’Artagnan,” comedies like “Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom,” and arthouse films, such as Justine Triet’s “Anatomy of a Fall,” which has just scooped five Oscar nominations, and Maiwenn’s “Jeanne du Barry.”
Although his role at Unifrance is meant to be non-operational, Pelisson says he will be working alongside Unifrance’s managing director Daniela Elstner on pressing issues that are facing the entertainment industry, such as AI, the need for greater transparency over viewing figures from streaming services, and the necessity to preserve the geo-blocking of rights across Europe to maintain a healthy indie film industry.
Pelisson says the job of sales agent has not become obsolete in light of streaming services playing an increasingly big role. “The world of streamers has greatly evolved in recent years, and even Netflix which used to be ultra dominant a few years ago is being challenged and is scaling back on original productions and acquisitions,” he says. “Independent movies still need sales agents to be represented in international markets and find distribution.”
The Unifrance Rendez-Vous, which has traditionally been focused on European buyers, welcomed for the first time this year a delegation of South American distributors, and Pelisson says the org will look to expand its scope more and more going forward.
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