Sundance Is Not the Only Magic:An Interview with PEF, otherwise known as Pierre Emmanuel Fleurantin, CEO and co-founder of Les Arcs Film Festival

If you’ve never heard or been to Les Arcs Film Festival, it’s time to do some research. Perched at almost 2000m altitude in the French Alps, it’s the most magical background for deploying the magic of cinema.

It’s also that time of the year when you can catch up leisurely on some of the best films of the year: Les Huit Montagnes that made waves in Cannes 2022, Skin Deep, The Banshees of Inisherin, Vera, Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman and many others…

And to properly introduce this unique film festival, I sat down with Pierre Emmanuel Fleurantin, CEO and co-founder of Les Arcs Film Festival. The following interview was taken on December 14, at the festival’s headquarters in Les Arcs 1950.

Dana: What a magical location for a film festival…I guess Les Arcs Film Festival is unique in Europe when it comes to its wonderful location in the French Alps…

PEF: Actually there was another festival in the French Alps that existed between ’82 and 1999, Avoriaz International Fantastic Film Festival, Avoriaz being the name of the ski resort. It was a huge festival where Steven Spielberg, old big names of the American cinema, Sylvester Stallone, the festival where Luc Besson, Sam Raimi, Peter Jackson were discovered. They stopped it in 1993 and it’s really funny because if you talk to the French, everyone knows Avoriaz and 80% of them think it still exists.

Dana: Before we go deeper into it, a few words about yourself and your role in the film industry…

PEF: I am mainly a producer, of films and series. The last two years I produced two films that won two Césars, one is La Panthère des Neiges, The Velvet Queen in English, the story of a famous French writer, Sylvain Tesson , and one of the best animal photographers in the world, Vincent Munier, going to Tibet and looking  for the snow leopard. It was a big success in France, it made 700,000 admissions during Covid, the biggest independent film last year…The year before I made a film called Deux, in English The Two of Us, the French candidate for the Oscars, it went to the Golden Globes, and won the best first feature. The director is Filippo Meneghetti who is in the jury this year, he’s Italian but making films in France, I am producing his films. I also produced the film of Luc Jacquet who made March of the Penguins. We madeThe Emperor, March of the Penguins 2. And I’m producing his next film. 

I’m also producing series, such as Zone Blanche, the English title is Black Spot, it’s a Netflix Original Series. Another one for Arte but I can’t tell you about this one now, the director is Vincent Maël Cardona, he won a César this year for a film called Les Magnétiques, Magnetic Beats in English. 

Dana: What are the origins of Les Arcs Film Festival and how did it come about?Were you inspired by Sundance when you chose the setting for Les Arcs Film Festival?

PEF: The beginning of the story was a meeting with Guillaume Calop, my business partner and co-founder of the festival. Our parents have been friends for 40 years now, they live in the valley, we were born here, in Bourg Saint Maurice. That’s our connection to the place. We actually met in Normandy, far away from here, 15 years ago, I was working on a festival project with a friend. And we discovered we had the same ideas, and then we decided to join and say, ‘ok let’s start a project’

Dana: Just like that…

PEF: Just like that…then we arranged some meetings, we put everything on the table, we said, ‘ok, Arcs 1950 is the new ski resort in Les Arcs, it’s a nice village and if we approach them we can maybe do something’. So we went to see the mayor with the project and also the company managing the resort, now it’s Pierre Vacances but it was another company then. Since we were from the valley, they knew us and the project looked good on the paper so they decided to greenlight us. And from the start we knew we wanted to do something for European cinema, we were thinking there was no big place just for European cinema and the concept of the festival was to create a market for the professionals and a film festival for the public. 

And even in the first year the festival looked more or less as it is now: a competition, a few French avant-premieres for the public, different sections, short films and a European financing market. The Works in Progress came later. We also had a second professional event, Le Sommet, which is a meeting between French distributors and exhibitors. That was the concept. 

We had the chance that for the market we knew the new generation of sales agents, especially with Jeremy Zelnik whom I called about a co-production market. We worked for the same company, a company for Café Loisir – a famous company for financing films in France, I knew he was leaving the company and wanted to be a producer so I invited him to join the festival, he loves skiing and we started to work together. He had a very important role in the creation of the co-production market. And all the sales agents loved the place, the fact that it’s easy to meet everyone, it’s very friendly and at the same time we have a very strong selection of projects. We started in 2009 when we had Hungary as a country in focus and one of the young directors was Laslo Nemes. We received his project two years later in 2011, the project of Son of Saul, it was the first time the project was proposed to the market. And a few years later he won an Oscar. And many other projects collected prizes in Cannes, like Girl, the films of Alice Rohrwacher, etc. At this moment all the market saw that we are very good in scouting. So everyone realised they should come to Les Arcs because if they don’t they’ll miss out. It became a place for business but also a very nice, convivial ambiance. 

Afterwards we started the music festival. A very important initiative, yesterday for instance you had Pete Doherty. We had very famous bands playing over the years like Jane,  Lilly Wood & The Prick, L’Impératrice. And this mix year after year made this festival very different. For many people this festival is very special and their favourite one. 

Dana: Are you planning to grow the festival and expand it further?

PEF: Maybe but not here (Arcs 1950) because we are already full, we had to refuse a lot of professional applications. But we could develop 1800 for the public. 

Dana: You also have Le Lab – Femmes de cinéma and also the prize Femmes de cinema…

PEF: Yes, we started that 10 years ago, it was initially a prize, now it’s also a Think Tank. 

Dana: And how does it work?

Dana: Every year, with our partner, the Sisley foundation, we give a prize to a female filmmaker.  Sisley is a cosmetics company in France, a family company, and their president, Philippe d’Ornano, who is a friend, is a real cinephile. So we decided together to create this prize because ten years ago it was clear that there were not enough female directors. So we wanted to promote that and support new female directors and role models. This year we selected  Mounia Meddour who made Papicha that received the César for Best First Feature and represented Algeria at the Oscars in 2020. She had a second film this year, we had a screening and then she received the prize. 

The lab was created because we wanted to generate some statistics and a study about the percentage of female directors in Europe, country by country. And what are the politics in every country, to compare political systems. So every year we publish this study. And as part of Le Lab, we organise masterclasses, workshops. Fabienne Sylvestre was there from the first year, she’s also on the board of the festival. 

Dana: I noticed last night some film professionals walked away with very generous prizes. 

PEF:: Yes, we have some partners for the Work in Progress that has different prizes, and also for the co-production market, scripts that are looking for financing. It’s also a way to promote certain projects and films. 

Dana: What are your goals for the festival going forward?

PEF: I am quite happy with the actual format. I would love to have more big European directors and actors, actresses. This is always a bit difficult. We always have a lot of big French stars coming. Ruben Ostlung was president of the Jury one year, Thomas Vinterberg too …I would love to have more connections with directors like them. This is something we should work on in the next years. And also to grow our audience, our public and the communication with the public in France and in Europe. But even as the festival is now, I feel it’s already quite big and bigger might also means less warm. So we need to strike a balance. What you probably noticed this year everything is very well organised, we have a fantastic team and they are doing a great job. 

And a great job they did indeed. I had a wonderful 5 days at the festival, packed with screenings, saunas and snow! Apart of what’s been revealed in the interview, what happens in Les Arcs stays in Les Arcs…

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