French film coffers opening?

Culture Minister de Vabres doesn't want to be closed off

Gaul-U.S. relations received a fillip Sunday morning when French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres restated his commitment to opening up France’s film subsidy system to Americans and other non-Europeans.

As he tucked into a plate of scrambled eggs at the Majestic Hotel, Donnedieu de Vabres opined that the French are ready and willing to open their film coffers – despite protests from Gallic majors and other industryites.

“We don’t want to be closed off,” the minister said. “I support the cultural exception and the objectives of cultural diversity but not a narrow protectionism.”

The minister sparked controversy when he announced the move to open the system back in February — prompted by the brouhaha over Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s Warner Bros. financed “A Very Long Engagement.”

On Sunday he insisted that opposition in Gaul is dying down. The minister hopes that by June the industry will have thrashed out checks and balances — such as a French-lingo only rule — that would apply to non-Europeans.

“I am not going to open the system in a thoughtless way. There will be a system of filters with criteria that protect French filmmaking,” the minister said.

At last year’s Cannes, the minister promised Hollywood honchos that fighting international piracy would be a top priority for France. Over the past year the Gauls have launched awareness campaigns in schools and changed the law to make legal clampdowns on offenders easier. But cases such as a schoolteacher who was fined thousands of euros have sparked a backlash in France.

“Even the word ‘pirate’ has a positive ring about it,” bemoaned the minister.

“It takes time to change things but France is being very hands on about the question,” he insisted.

On a European level, Donnedieu de Vabres opined that culture was coming in from the fringes to play a more strategic role as European Union member states realized its importance in preserving national identities.

“When I’m asked what I think is the most important European value I reply ‘pluralism — cultural and political.’ The European constitution (being put to the vote in France later this month) will make that official.”

However, in an extremely close call according to the latest opinion polls, the French just might vote no to the constitution.

“There is no plan B,” says Donnedieu de Vabres. “If there is a no vote, we’ll be very fragile culturally.”

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