Studiocanal to Operate Heavy-Hitting Mars Films Library as French Distributor Finalizes Restructuring (EXCLUSIVE)

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Mars Films, the Paris-based distribution company that released Oscar winners “12 Years a Slave” and “Moonlight,” has finalized its restructuring plan with minority shareholder Vivendi Content, a branch of Universal Music Group and Canal Plus Group’s parent company.

Founded by Stephane Celerier and Valerie Garcia in 2007, the once thriving company has been in the process of financial restructuring and monitoring since Aug. 2019.

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Vivendi, which had acquired a 30% stake in the company back in 2015, will convert its €11.2 million ($13 million) debt into equity and is acquiring Mars Films’ library of more than 200 titles for all rights in France.

The Mars catalogue includes hit French co-productions such as “La Famille Belier,” the hit French heart-warming comedy that was remade into “CODA,” “Two is a Family” with Omar Sy, Fred Cavayé’s “Le jeu”; and award-winning indies such as Steve McQueen’s “12 Years a Slave,” Barry Jenkins’ “Moonlight,” Asif Kapadia’s “Amy,” Margot Robbie starrer “I, Tonya,” Matt Ross’ “Captain Fantastic,” Harmonie Korine’s “Spring Breakers,” Jeff Nichols’ “Loving,” and Woody Allen’s movies, from “Midnight in Paris” to “Magic in the Moonlight” and “Blue Jasmine.”

Mars Films’ library also includes movies by renowned French auteurs like Francois Ozon, best known for “Potiche” and “By The Grace of God.”

The library will now be fully operated by Studiocanal, the film and TV banner owned by Canal Plus Group, Variety has learned. Studiocanal already boasts one of the largest film libraries in the world with more than 6,000 titles from 60 countries.

Vivendi will pay a total sum of €17.3 million ($20.3 million) to take over Mars Films, including the €11.6 million ($13.5 million) debt owed to the investment fund VisVires and bank Natixis Coficiné, a financier that specializes in lending to the media and entertainment industries. As part of the restructuring plan, the 11 employees of Mars Films have been laid off.

The ruling says Mars Films will now be focused on the distribution of its library titles and will limit the number of new films released. Mars Films’ debt was in the €60 million range ($70 million) and Vivendi was able to reach agreements with secured and unsecured creditors on a case-by-case basis, with a repayment ranging from 15% to 30% of the debt.

Contacted by Variety, co-founder Celerier and Vivendi declined to comment. The news of the court ruling was first reported by French trade publication Le Film Francais.

Celerier is expected to continue as a producer and will look to make more high-concept, crowd-pleasing films like “La Famille Belier” and “Two is a Family,” which he co-produced at Mars.

A source close to Mars Films said the ruling was the best possible outcome for the company. Even though the banner isn’t expected to operate as a standalone distribution entity going forward, its library will be represented by a topnotch sales team at Studiocanal.

A number of bidders had circled Mars Films over the last two years, notably AIM (Artistes Intermédiaire Multimédia) with the financial firm Saint James, Tarak Ben Ammar’s Italian distribution company Eagles Pictures and French media holding Hildegarde (which owns Le Film Francais). However, none of the bids were greenlit by the court.

Mars Films’ exit from the business of theatrical distribution has been a big loss for prestige U.S. indies and mid-budget French movies financed outside of vertically-integrated groups (Studiocanal, TF1, SND, Pathe and Gaumont). So far, no other French company has managed to fill the gap left by Mars Films as a key purveyor of U.S. independent films.

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