Welcome to International Disruptors, a feature where we shine a spotlight on key executives and companies outside of the U.S. shaking up the offshore marketplace. With the 75th Cannes Film Festival less than two weeks away, we’re speaking with well-respected French sales exec Carole Baraton, co-founder of international sales and production outfit Charades. The company has four titles in selection and Baraton tells us about the company’s ambitions and why she’s looking forward to being back on the Croisette.
It’s been five years since French sales veteran Carole Baraton joined forces with former Gaumont exec Yohann Comte and former Studiocanal exec Pierre Mazars to launch Charades and in that short period of time the trio have managed to carve out a boutique sales and production label that has quickly become synonymous with quality independent fare.
The Paris-based company is a regular fixture on the international film festival circuit and at this year’s upcoming Cannes Film Festival, Charades has four films in official selection: Kirill Serebrennikov’s Tchaikovsky’s Wife and Valeria Bruni-Tedeschi’s Forever Young, both In Competition; Critics Week entry Aftersun from director Charlotte Wells, starring Paul Mescal; and a special screening of 2D animation Little Nicholas, based on the popular series of 1960s French children’s books.
For Baraton, this slate is a perfect representation of the types of films that Charades is interested in – a wide selection of eclectic titles that range from big-budget family animation movies to first time director’s efforts to smart, thought-provoking arthouse fare.
“I think that’s what sets us apart from other entities,” Baraton tells Deadline in a rare interview. “We work across a wide range of movies, which means we can be surprising. We work hard to cover all these bases and don’t identify with a certain space. For us, it’s important that we are a stop for all kinds of distributors, from the independents to the studios to the streamers. It’s a lot of work covering those bases and it’s very demanding but that’s how we like it.”
This year at Cannes, Charades will be unveiling to buyers first footage of Fearless Flyers (formerly known as Northern Comfort), the debut English-language feature from Icelandic helmer Hafsteinn Gunnar Sigurdsson. The comedy, which follows a group of people with a chronic fear of flying, stars Lydia Leonard, Timothy Spall, Sverrir Gudnason and Rob Delaney. The company is also set to launch sales on Tommy Wirkola’s first animation project, Spermageddon (working title) about love from inside the body of a teenager. It’s also selling Charlotte Regan’s debut feature Scrapper.
“We’re very happy with where we are right now,” says Baraton. “We’ve created a brand and while we know this business is currently very fragile and we are all going through this storm together, we’re really satisfied with what we have built in the last five years. We’re at a stage where producers who we didn’t know and may not have picked up the phone to us five years ago are now calling to work with us.”
Baraton has a stellar reputation in the international film arena, known for being modest in her approach but also having impeccable taste. The exec kick-started her career at Canal Plus, where she quickly went from selling French TV movies with French cast to selling projects such as Terminator 2: Judgement Day to Rambo after the company bought the Carloco library. It was there she met Vincent Maravel, who was on the cusp of starting his own company Wild Bunch, and he asked her to join him in the new banner.
She went on to spend 17 years at that powerhouse French film sales and distribution company, spearheading international sales on several prestige auteur films such as Cannes Palme d’Or winning I, Daniel Blake and Blue Is The Warmest Color as well as The Artist and March Of The Penguins. She also successfully launched Wild Bunch’s TV department, which kicked off with Medici: The Masters Of Florence, a big hit for RAI.
“The company was moving around so quickly and becoming so different all of the time, it didn’t feel like I ever needed a new adventure because it felt like every year was a new adventure,” says Baraton of her time at Wild Bunch.
But when the opportunity came for her to branch out and set up Charades with seasoned French industry players like Comte and Mazars, Baraton felt that she “could not ignore that the stars were aligning.”
The three execs, who all had experience working across high-profile projects at top French outfits, would band their resources together to become a boutique super-indie. So far, the trio have complemented each other well in terms of taste and decision-making prowess. To date, Charades has a strong track record in animation, having worked on titles such as Japanese auteur Mamoru Hosoda’s Oscar-nominated animated feature Mirai as well as his latest title Belle, along with Jeremy Clapin’s Oscar-nominated I Lost My Body and Ben Stassen’s 3D animated features Bigfoot Superstar and The Queen’s Corgi.
Additionally, it scored key sales on Philip Barantini’s British chef drama Boiling Point, which earned an impressive $670,000 at the UK box office via Vertigo Films on a limited release earlier this year as well as earning more than 100,000 admissions at the French box office.
When it comes to selecting projects, Baraton insists that Charades is not a company that that believes in business models, preferring to rely upon their intuition. The company prides itself on being flexible and adaptable and can step in and offer financing at various stages of production from development finance to co-production opportunities to third-party sales. The company, she says, is always looking to find ways to facilitate financing movies “the European way” and help “find solutions to optimize financing.”
“We are very flexible, and we don’t really believe in models, we believe in opportunities,” says Baraton, who admits there is no “magic recipe” when it comes to selecting titles.
“It’s a lot about intuition, the producers, the directors and the quality of the team,” she says. “Internally, we always have to have at least two out of three partners to be onboard for a project. It’s as simple as that really. We’ve found that the projects all three of us agree on, are the ones that worked best in the marketplace.”
A good example of this trajectory is the company’s relationship with lauded Russian arthouse director Serebrennikov and his producer Ilya Stewart of Hype Films. Charades picked up the director’s 2018 Palme d’Or contender Leto at script stage and, following fantastic sales that year, developed the relationship further. With the director’s next title, Petrov’s Flu, which premiered last year In Competition in Cannes, Charades stepped up as French co-producer, being instrumental in taking the risk, facilitating French public and private financing and securing French distribution with Arte Distribution. The company went down a similar road with this year’s competition entry Tchaikovsky’s Wife, which it also co-produced.
“We like to build relationships like this,” says Baraton. “We have many examples, but this is one that is really a typical run for us. We don’t have exclusivity because I don’t think a one-to-one relationship or that vertical concentration is the right model for anyone in the long run, but we have a good relationship and of course anything Ilya brings us, we will take a closer look at it.”
In the run up to Cannes, there have been a number of members of the international community who have called on festivals not to accept Russian titles given the ongoing war in Ukraine after Vladimir Putin invaded the country in February. While Baraton wants to steer clear of the politics, she points to the director’s history across the last five years, which has seen him battle fraud charges in his home country – charges which were condemned by many human rights organizations – making him unable to leave Russia for several years.
“We’ve been supporting Kirill for a long time and the last two times he featured In-Competition in Cannes, he wasn’t able to be there – his seat just had a piece of paper with his name written on it,” she says. “He’s an artist who has had a hard time making movies there and hasn’t exactly been supported by his own country for years now, has been under house arrest and has been very vocal about his position. For the first time in five years, he has the chance to be present for his film in Cannes.”
Looking ahead to the festival, Baraton says she’s most looking forward to “seeing a packed Lumière theater” as well as seeing those key international delegates that she hasn’t seen in a while due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
“I’m looking forward to the excitement of the market and how we can somehow translate to audiences the passion of our partners, distributors and producers,” she says.
While she admits business is still fragile in the cinema sector, she’s optimistic about the future.
“Things are shifting and I think our distributors may benefit at the end of the road from the presence of streamers locally as it may push them to take risks and be more inventive on how they offer movies,” she says. “We need to be more and more conscious at production stage through sales and into distribution of who your movie is for. We need to think of this as early as script stage of how you can target your audience. It’s not just about being happy with a four-star review, a nice poster and good programming. I don’t think that’s enough anymore.”
In the long-term, Baraton says she sees her business moving closer into production, as it’s the “obvious evolution” with the role of sales and producers becoming more intertwining as the market evolves.
“We want to keep being a boutique label and continue working with the people we like and building new relationships,” she says. “As long as we have that, we are happy.”
This week’s edition of Deadline’s International Disruptors is presented by Guillotine Vodka.