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Pinheiro woos AFM audience

European industryites at two American Film Market panels Tuesday had a hard time convincing a mostly U.S. audience to help Europe regain a home market almost entirely controlled by Hollywood product.

That tough task was spearheaded by the AFM luncheon keynote speaker, Joao de Deus Pinheiro, European commissioner for culture and audiovisual policy.

With Motion Picture Assn. of America president Jack Valenti on the dais, Pinheiro steered clearof a GATT-style confrontation — never mentioning his latest crusade against United Intl. Pictures, the American overseas distribution partnership of Paramount, Universal and MGM/UA. Instead he called for American majors to realize the benefits of a competitive European market.

But he also offered, “If I said: ‘You (U.S. majors) are mean. You are crushing us. We have to react,’ I would be lauded as a hero, a savior in Europe. Instead, it is time to look each other in the eye and work together.”

The grim numbers, however, don’t give him and other Europeans a lot of bargaining chips: Already, 85% of all pix released in Europe are supplied by the majors. By the year 2000, that number will likely climb beyond 90%.

“I cannot afford to do a picture in German,” said Willi Baer, prexy/CEO of Hamburg-based Connexion Film and co-topper of the Universal-based Bregman/Baer production partnership, when asked why the talent exodus to the U.S. has increased.

Big pictures “can only be done with the majors as a partner,” Baer added. “Would more quotas help me? No. Product would still be funded by subsidies and be limited to the TV market. Quotas would bog us down instead of help us grow.”

International Creative Management chairman/CEO Jeff Berg may have put his finger on the essential problem when he asked Pinheiro if he thought the U.S. free-market style could ever be made to work with the government-helmed, bureaucratically driven European film biz.

In response, Pinheiro argued that the local market would quadruple rather than merely double if the Americans and Euros “would seek concrete ways of cooperation.” But Pinheiro steered clear of pointing a finger at either side, saying instead that “there is always room to maneuver if we can make our work more known.”

Aurelio de Laurentiis, chairman of Filmauro in Italy and himself a producer, pulled no punches when he said: “With bad movies you cannot do anything. And we do too many bad movies. … Political people don’t understand the movie business; only in a free market can everyone learn the lesson.”

De Laurentiis also proposed building a new, centralized film studio somewhere in Europe to revive the local industry. At another panel, Pinheiro agreed that such a revival was important not just for the industry, but for the continent as a whole. Currently, Eurimages and the European Script Fund annually divvy up about ECU 50 million ($ 57 million) to various production outfits — a measure described by many present industryites as “insufficient.”

On the upside, the film market in the chief GATT saber-rattler, France, “seems like heaven,” according to Jose Covo, chairman/CEO of Polygram’s Paris-based audiovisual arm. Long accustomed to political “cohabitation” with strange bedfellows, the French entertainment market had its best-ever B.O. year in 1993, with French pix grabbing about 40% of its profits, with most of the rest going to Hollywood. As the healthiest film market on the continent, even France is feeling the chilly winds of change: The video market is dropping, and the remaining five distribbers have been hit hard, with UIP’s “Jurassic Park” and Gaumont’s “Les Visiteurs” accounting for a full 17% of the French 1993 B.O.

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