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Film Funding: Blatant Protectionism or a Cultural Necessity?

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Hollywood kicks up a fuss as European film producers profit extensively from public funds.

It’s that time of year again. From 12th to 23rd May film fans will be converging on the secret home of films, Cannes, where mostly ‘European’ films that wish to distance themselves from Hollywood films are premiered. A few weeks ago the US cinema industry got a bee in its bonnet as Hollywood, which gets along just fine without state funding, criticised the decision of the European Commission to continue financial support for films through the EU’s MEDIA-programme until 2007 (and to bump up the programme’s budget from 400 to 493 million euros). The term ‘protectionism’ featured heavily in the criticism. The EU Commissioner for Education and Culture, Viviane Reding, defended the attack by Hollywood, saying that the MEDIA-programme “promotes the development of cultural creativity” and that it was necessary to protect European cinema from “any outside pressure”.

Support for variety

The feature film is the leader of the orchestra not only in the orchestra of European cultural policy, but also in the various orchestras of Member States. And everyone knows how sensitive and sought-after this position is. That’s why people are willing to pay for it: every year more than a billion euros of national and regional assistance and more than 80 million euros of European funds (MEDIA, Eurimages) are distributed. The majority of this money goes in the form of direct subsidies to film producers, but it is also awarded to film services such as distribution or screenings (the key player here is Europa cinemas.

The first and largest support programme for film creators is the MEDIA-programme. It aims to advance and expand the audio-visual sector, to develop production projects, to aid film marketing, to promote European cinema in Europe and across the world and, last but not least, to encourage and support diversity across Europe. “We’re talking here about a culturally important area, which plays a significant role in fostering a European identity”, according to Reding. What exactly she means by a European identity remains to be seen. In any case, continuing to encourage European diversity on a common European-wide basis is something to be welcomed.

It’s fairly common knowledge how varied production conditions are in Europe. In France, a country of exports, the rules are different than in Great Britain, where subsidies are generally only given if they guarantee returns for the British economy. It’s a completely different and far less rosy situation in Eastern Europe.

The main aim of the Eurimages fund is to reflect other aspects of European diversity. The European Council’s programme for co-production (90% of its budget), distribution and screening of European films has been in place since 1989 and has co-produced around 900 films from its 30 members in that time. Estonia has become its newest member. Eurimages supports, for example, cinemas which do not benefit from the MEDIA-programme.

Eurimages and MEDIA show that common European funding can help diversity in Europe and can also balance out discrimination against European productions based on cultural conditions within Europe and globally. This could be construed as distortion of competition, as it creates advantages for European productions over competitors from other continents and therefore has negative effects on international equal opportunities.

But if we look at it from a cultural policy point of view, it also seems to make sense. Examples of this are the European Film Promotion, a network that covers 22 European countries that sells and distributes films abroad, or the European Film Academy, which organises the ‘European Film Awards’ every year. And both of these organisations are funded by the MEDIA-programme.

Would European cinema exist without the funding?

Doris Kirch from Blue Angel Film Productions thinks that film makers in Europe have no right to complain as they are “incredibly well catered for”, at European as well as national levels. She points out inequalities between individual Eastern and Western EU countries, which have led to things like German films being produced in Prague because it’s much cheaper there. However, it should be pointed out that many projects refuse EU funding as they want to retain their artistic freedom and make sure that this isn’t compromised through certain directives.

Hollywood must like the sound of that. At least they’d rather hear that rather than the fact that eleven of the films being shown at Cannes are funded by the MEDIA-programme and two by Eurimages. Whether Hollywood has anything to fear from Europe or not will be made clear on 18th May in Cannes. That particular day of the festival is devoted to “European cinema”. How dangerous will it be? We’ll have to wait and see. In the cinemas of Cannes.

Translated from Filmförderung: Protektionismus oder kulturelle Notwendigkeit?