The loudly heralded International Filmmakers Symposium got off to a rousing start at the Venice Film Festival Monday before a convinced audience of filmmakers and observers. Although the two-hour talkfest revealed a wide gulf between English-language directors and their continental European colleagues, it also underlined the participants’ ardent desire to bridge the gap that separates them.

Among those present at the event were helmers Fred Zinneman, Robert Altman, Ettore Gabriele Salvatores, Giuseppe Tornatore, Francesco Rosi, Sydney Pollack, Krzysztof Zanussi, Liliana Cavani and Stephen Frears.

“We’re here to create a historic event,” announced Italian director Ettore Scola.

One reason for the session’s celebratory atmosphere was the concurrent birth of an International Filmmakers Union. Its headquarters will be in Venice, where a Permanent International Filmmakers Secretariat, composed of filmmakers and major figures from the world of international culture, will make use of the Venice Biennale organization to allow directors to stay in contact with each other.

Zinneman, 95, compared the International Filmmakers Union to the creation of the Directors Guild of America. “I hope it’ll be possible to organize many young people along with successful directors,” he said.

Though the moral rights of filmmakers were a central theme of the gathering, there was still a wide range of topics. Jack Lang, former French minister of culture, read a letter from Paramount president Martin Davis attacking the idea of giving more power to creative artists and promising to vigorously oppose the import of moral rights to the U.S. Lang, one of the organizers of the confab, had other ideas.

Other speakers touched upon the U.S. film industry’s dominance in Europe, the need to release more European product in the U.S., the importance of distinguishing films from other trade commodities, and the urgent need to re-introduce the moral rights issue at the GATT trade talks, after U.S. and other negotiators lobbied to get the topic bumped from the agenda.

“The real purpose of this symposium,” said Rosi, “is to determine how we directors can convince politicians and governments to recognize our rights. They’re the ones who make laws, not us.”

The moral rights that filmmakers and other creators have over their work are mentioned in the Berne Convention on copyright, where they are defined as an extension of a creator’s control over a piece of work, independent of any economic rights.

In most European countries, for example, where a film or TV director is considered the creator, a director can protest over cuts a producer or TV station makes in a film. In the U.S. and U.K., on the other hand, the creator is considered to be the producer or copyright owner.

This fundamental difference appeared deeply ingrained in the minds of symposium participants. While the continental Europeans, Africans and South Americans theorized about how the artist can best be protected, their American, British and Australian colleagues — looking outnumbered and slightly awkward — did little besides express their solidarity.

“I’m here to learn, listen and support,” said Robert Altman, whose “Short Cuts” was screened Sunday to enthusiastic festival auds. Though he told Daily Variety he has enjoyed creative control over his films for years, he said at the symposium that “young people are exploited when they get their start.”

What lasting effect the filmmakers’ symposium may have remains to be seen. While some observers expressed skepticism, others were more optimistic.

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