To Americans, Euro subsidy schemes are part of the ploy to keep Hollywood movies from beating local pics at the BO.
In France, the tactic would seem to be working: Gallic films now claim a 41% market share — the highest in 15 years — and American films are only gobbling up half the market, down from 60%.
But in trying to fend off Hollywood, the French have concocted a strategy that this year will penalize: 1) Cannes, the most important film fest in the world, 2) Unifrance, the most effective promoter of a national cinema to ever come down the pike and 3) a new generation of French filmmakers. Neat trick, eh?
One thing the French apparently overlooked was that more ticket sales to foreign pics means more moolah in the subsidy coffers.
So despite “Amelie” breaking global B.O. records and winning awards up the kazoo, despite a 122% — yes, 122%! — increase in foreign revenues for French-language pics, Gallic filmmakers now find they have less government cash to work with. Part of the decrease in subsidy funds this year has to do with rotten luck. Three quarters of the budget of the CNC — a French equivalent to the NEA but just for film and TV — comes from monies taken off the top of French TV channel revenues. And with ad sales way down, the CNC’s cut is down.
But the CNC also gets dough by collecting a tax on every movie ticket sold in theaters. B.O. up, more grant money, you’d assume.
The glitch occurs because French producers with pics in theaters — arguably the ones who least need a handout — receive the tax on their films’ admissions directly, with the stipulation that they reinvest it in another film within five years.
Which leaves those who really need the francs — young filmmakers, non-profits — fighting over a shrunken piece of the subsidy tarte funded by the admission tax on non-French films — the majority of which are those heinous American blockbusters.
So who gets the knife?
Short films to start. Sure they’re the industry calling-card for first-time filmmakers, but, hey, who can really get riled up about shorts?
Cannes will suffer cuts for the first time in its existence, and biz watchers should expect wails of pain from this prominent French enterprise.
Ditto Unifrance, which under Daniel Toscan de Plantier’s leadership tirelessly mounts French film fests around the globe.
Will the French reconsider complicated regulations and a brutal antipathy for the free marketplace, or will they stay the course and face the wrath of young filmmakers as well as the high-profile (and well-placed) orgs at the heart of their cinema culture?
Stay tuned to see how they get out of this one.