Film Forum aims to boost homegrown product

PARIS — U.S. fare notched 500 million ticket sales across Europe in 2000, while Euro films managed only 60 million outside their own territories, according to figures released Tuesday at the European Film Forum in Strasbourg, France.

The dismal news for local filmmakers came on the closing day of a dull and gray forum that was lent some glitz by thesps Charlotte Rampling and Bibi Andersson and filmmaker Carlos Saura.

After hearing repeated laments about cinema woes, Saura told a half-filled auditorium at the European Parliament: “I’ll soon be 70 and I’ve been hearing the same tune, with slight variations, for the past 50 years.”

America faring well

But the European Audiovisual Observatory had the stats to back up complaints that while U.S. movies are watched everywhere, with few exceptions even Euro films that are successful in their own backyards seem incapable of traveling next door.

Belgian filmmaker Gerard Corbiau, president of this year’s forum, pleaded: “It is urgent that Europe’s politicians act before the situation becomes irreversible.”

With few high-profile players present, the forum reflected cinema’s downbeat state, and director Patrice Vivancos, serving as chair Tuesday, often had to cajole the predominantly French assembly into joining the debate.

But Pierre-Henri Deleau, the former Cannes Directors Fortnight topper and artistic director of the Strasbourg gathering (which he founded six years ago), believes the event has goaded the European Commission into action.

“The real lobbying takes place in the corridors,” Deleau said. “It is thanks to coming to the forum that people in the industry have personally got to know deciders in the European Union.”

Spanish film “El Bola,” by Achero Manas, was expected to win a 20,000-euro ($17,600) prize to be spent on European distribution at the closing ceremony Tuesday night.

In related news, the European Parliament Tuesday urged the EC to increase funding upped for the European film biz, with the “i2i initiative” that provides long-term funds for audiovisual projects being directed into improving distribution for European films.

Parliamentary pressure

While Parliament issued a resolution, it can’t legislate, so its position is not binding. However, as the only elected European Union institution, its ability to put political pressure on the EC and other EU institutions has grown.

The EC will review the controversial “television without frontiers” directive, which sets content quotas for local product, in 2002. Members of the European Parliament have called on the EC to set stricter limits on non-Euro films at that time.

Parliament also would like the EC to force broadcasters to show a minimum number of non-national European works and to invest part of their profit in the film industry.

The EU identifies competitiveness with liberalization rather than protectionism in the form of quotas and subsidies — but culture has always been an exception to the EU’s philosophy and some member states, notably France, intend it to remain that way.

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