Eric Lagesse, CEO / President of Paris-based arthouse distributor and global sales company Pyramide Films, received the Industry Tribute Award at the Cairo Film Festival on Friday. Variety spoke with him about his relationship with Arab cinema and the situation of independent cinema in France.
How do you feel about receiving this tribute?
It’s great, but I had a year to get used to it. Due to the pandemic, I did not receive it last year as expected. Nothing major has changed in the meantime. I still really enjoy Arab and Egyptian films. We are now working with a new generation of films and filmmakers like âAmiraâ (pictured), who starred in the Horizons competition at the Venice Film Festival this year.
What is your link with the world of Arab cinema?
We have been working with the Arab world since the beginning of Pyramid. The first film that I sold as an agent was “The Emigrant” by Youssef Chahine. We had huge success with Chahine’s masterpiece âDestinyâ, which sold all over the world after playing competitively at Cannes in 1997. Chahine opened a lot of doors. He signed our pyramid logo. So every time we play a film in France, we see his name. The company was not named after the pyramids of Egypt. [Its launch] coincided with the opening of the Louvre pyramid [and was named after that]. But now everyone thinks [itâs a reference to] Egypt.
What is your relationship with Egypt and the region’s filmmakers now?
I don’t go to Egypt often, but I feel very connected to the country. And we continued to work with a lot of filmmakers from the region. Palestinian filmmakers like Annemarie Jacir with âSalt of This Seaâ or âWajibâ. Films from Tunisia, Morocco, Syria. There is a lot of talent in the area. Some of our other films from the Arab world include “You Will Die at 20” by Amjad Abu Alala and “Divine Intervention” by Elia Suleiman. Another is the film “Nezouh”, by Soudade Kaadan, about a young girl experiencing conflict in Damascus (but only for French distribution). “Much Loved” by Franco-Moroccan director Nabil Ayouch is another film that Pyramide had distributed in France, alongside “Cairo 678”, Diab’s first film. The others are intended for French distribution and worldwide sales.
Can you tell us about your career?
My career is rather linear. I started at Pyramide in 1992. I bought the company in 2008. I have been a sales agent for 30 years. I’m a pretty loyal guy. I had a lot of adventures at Pyramide: Running a business, buying, releasing films. It’s a bit like a storm. Sometimes it is unbelievable. We have been through difficult times recently, but I hope we will return, as we always have, to more balanced days. It is a very risky business.
How to survive the vagaries of cinema?
I swim. It is certainly very good for your health and your blood pressure. I am surrounded by great people who work with me. We are living in a very difficult time. We are currently losing on every movie. But before 2020, we had very good years, and France supported us a lot, which helps because we lost a lot of moviegoers because of seven and a half months of closed cinemas. There is a category of people who no longer go to the cinema. The 45-65 age group does not go to the movies much. We don’t know what exactly happened, but maybe it’s because we left the theater closed for so long, maybe they subscribed to Netflix, or they found some other activity. . It affects big movies less. But arthouse films have lost 50% of their audience. The studios lost maybe 25%. Theaters in France say attendance is down 30%. As an independent French distributor, I am losing 50% on everything currently. I still pay the same amount to release movies I bought at pre-pandemic prices two years ago. We all have so many movies to release. We had 350 films waiting to be released [in France] so we released too many films. I release a film every two to three weeks from Cannes.
Is France a privileged place for the arthouse trade?
In France, Paris is a very special place because you can mix your output between independent cinemas and movie chains. Art and essay in the countryside is more difficult. Last year was a disaster. This year too. But we are a big country for cinema. The CNC is very active and supports distributors a lot. Lots of other supports are also in place that help explain why we are so successful and new talent emerging. The French won the Lion d’Or [Audrey Diwan for âHappeningâ] and the Palme d’Or (Julia Ducournau for âTitaneâ) this year. It couldn’t happen in another country, where there isn’t as much support as we have from the CNC. I just hope people come back to the movies.