Pathé may be one of France’s oldest film groups, but it is young at heart. The only French film company that is still fully involved in exhibition, production, distribution and sales, Pathé has been confronting the challenges wrought by the pandemic and the arrival of streamers with bold steps and ambitious new projects. During the Cannes Film Festival, the company will receive Variety’s Intl. Achievement in Film Award.
In the past two years, the family-owned film group, which is led by the visionary businessman Jérôme Seydoux, saw its “CODA” win three Oscars for family drama; greenlit the country’s biggest-budgeted movies in recent history, “Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom” ($75 million) and the two-part adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ masterpiece, “The Three Musketeers — D’Artagnan” and “The Three Musketeers — Milady” ($75 million); it ventured into TV series; and forged bonds with streaming services, including Netflix and Apple TV+.
“When theaters were shut down, we didn’t scale back on projects. We have continued making movies for cinemas and that requires a certain level of quality, and the promise of delivering a spectacle,” says Ardavan Safaee, who joined Pathé Films in 2015, and was appointed chairman of Pathé Films in September 2019.
Indeed, Pathé has produced some of France’s most ambitious films in recent years, such as Antonin Baudry’s submarine thriller “The Wolf’s Call,” Jean-Jacques Annaud’s “Notre-Dame on Fire” as well as Martin Bourboulon’s period film “Eiffel,” about the mastermind behind the famous Paris landmark, Gustave Eiffel.
Safaee says Pathé’s DNA has always been about producing top-notch movies, such as Patrice Chéreau’s 1994 historical film “La Reine Margot” and Jean-Jacques Annaud’s lushly lensed 1988 film “The Bear.” Seydoux, who is still involved in greenlighting movies, is certainly keen on maintaining high standards.
“Films that stick in people’s minds and become classics are often produced with significant budgets. You can’t make good cuisine with cheap ingredients and the same goes for moviemaking,” says Seydoux.
Another part of Pathé’s DNA is its long-term relationships with producers who think big. Back in the day, it was the late Claude Berri, and today it’s Alain Attal (“The Wolf’s Call,” “Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom”), Dimitri Rassam (“What’s in a Name?,” “The Three Musketeers”) and Philippe Rousselet (“CODA”).
The company is aiming to make three or four big-budgeted films a year and release them in theaters, Safaee says.
“We must maintain this level and make bigger films, more regularly,” he says.
The business-savvy executive says the idea behind this strategy is to create strong IP and franchises that will not only work in France but also travel around the world. “That’s our credo for the years to come,” he says.
Indeed, all these big-budget movies, which are based on identifiable IP, franchises and historical events or characters, have been sold widely at a level that has kept the pressure to perform well at the local theatrical box office to a minimum.
“We’re working with major independent distributors in key markets, like Constantin and Leonine in Germany, and DeA Planeta and Vertice 360 in Spain, and Notorious and Lucky Red in Italy, who are facing U.S. studios on the one hand and streamers on the other, and need European blockbusters,” Safaee says.
“The Three Musketeers” and “Asterix and Obelix: The Middle Kingdom,” for instance, were almost entirely pre-sold worldwide to indie buyers in spite of the pandemic.
Aside from its collaboration with independent distributors, Pathé Films has also made inroads with streamers and scored a record-breaking $25 million deal with Apple TV+ for the global rights to “CODA” at Sundance in 2021.
A remake of the French family movie “La Famille Belier,” “CODA” was the first film produced as part of its partnership with Rousselet’s Vendome Pictures to make English-language projects. The film went on to win Oscars for best picture, adapted screenplay and supporting actor for Troy Kotsur.
Pathé also produced a Dany Boon movie for Netflix, the lockdown-themed comedy “8, rue
Safaee says the company is looking to continue working with streamers on approximately two movies per year, while keeping its focus on movies that will be released in theaters.
“Our goal is to make eight to 10 movies for theaters in France,” says the executive. He notes that the studio is also interested in continuing to work with auteurs on movies with festival potential, including, Pedro Almodóvar (“Parallel Mothers”), Emanuele Crialese (“L’immensità”) and Alice Winocour, whose film “Paris Memories” is playing in Cannes’ Directors’ Fortnight, as well as Matteo Garrone, Albert Dupontel, Fatih Akin, Kirill Serebrennikov and Nicolas Bedos, who all have upcoming projects set up at Pathé.
The company has also recently ventured into TV series, a move that Seydoux was initially reluctant to make.
“With the arrival of platforms, the environment for TV series has changed. Talents that we work with on movies are interested in making series, and if we don’t offer them this opportunity they’ll make them with others, so it was an absolute necessity for us to branch out,” he says.
Whereas other big companies have either abandoned distribution, such as MK2, or exhibition, as with Gaumont, Pathé is still highly active in both. (Pathé acquired Gaumont’s multiplex cinemas in 2017, and another smaller cinema chain, CinéAlpes, in 2019.)
“In a country where we have such a large exhibition business, it would be unthinkable, and also pointless, not to be involved in distribution. Distribution complements our production activity,” Seydoux says.
Ranking as France’s leading theater circuit, the banner also still believes in the theatrical exhibition business, even if admissions have been steadily declining since the start of the year.
“Exhibition is going through a recovery period this year after two years of sickness, but I think we’ll see an end to this crisis in 2023,” says Seydoux, who believes in the “profitability of theaters in the long run.”
Speaking of the drop in admissions for French movies, Seydoux says: “Some people will never return because they’ve lost the habit of going to cinemas, and others will take more time to come back,” hence the “necessity of offering them something different: a vision that is different to what they watch on their couches.”
Pathé is also banking on offering a more premium experience to lure back audiences. The company is building the Pathé Palace, a lavish multiplex in Paris that will be located where Paramount opened its own theater in 1927.
“It was the roaring 1920s, when palaces were flourishing, and this one was considered to be the most beautiful in Europe. With Pathé Palace, our wish is to accomplish what Paramount did 100 years ago: creating the most elegant and original cinema palace in Europe,” says Seydoux. Expected to open its doors in 2024, the multiplex is located next to the Opera.
Pathé is also active in the U.K., where it’s carrying on production activities; it’s also involved in exhibition in Belgium, the Netherlands and Switzerland, and is now increasingly looking at Africa to expand its brand through both distribution and exhibition operations.
The bottom line is that “theaters have survived an incalculable number of crises. … [French filmmaker and actor] Jean-Pierre Melville predicted 50 years ago that cinema would be dead, but here we are today — we’re not dead. With films there are ups and downs, but personally there have always been ups,” quips Seydoux.
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