148 countries voted in favor to protect cultural diversity
PARIS –Hollywood movies took in $9.2 billion in overseas ticket sales last year, a bumper 80% hike in less than a decade.
And that’s something the rest of the world appreciates less and less.
With some pics garnering up to 70% of their gross abroad, foreign filmmakers — and their governments — feel cheated that more of that moolah isn’t coming their way.
Free-floating resentment crystallized into something more concrete on Oct. 20, when 148 countries voted in favor of a UNESCO convention to protect cultural diversity. U.S. and Israel stood alone in opposing the treaty.
The thrust of the pact is that for the sake of world peace and understanding, signatory states have a duty to defend and promote cultural diversity. That could mean taking measures to help their local film and TV industries withstand the steamroller of American popular culture.
The idea for the convention originated in Canada, whose local box office share in 2003 was a dismal 2.7%. But France has been the driving force, campaigning hard for the past two years to get the convention drafted and approved.
Savoring victory last week, French Culture Minister Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres said, “In the domain of culture in general and cinema is particular, uniformization and concentration keep on progressing.
“The market does not spontaneously produce ‘cultural diversity’ — far from it,” he went on, citing a UNESCO report from 2000 that gave the U.S. global market share as 85%.
So should the studios’ international mavens be losing sleep over all this? Is “King Kong” about to be banned from screens around the world?
Despite the brouhaha, the UNESCO convention won’t have any practical consequences for the foreseeable future. It’ll take at least two years, possibly longer, for the requisite 30 countries to ratify it, making it international law.
Even then, in a showdown between the U.N.’s well-meaning but not very muscular Education and Culture org and the infinitely more powerful World Trade Organization, the latter’s international trade rules would surely prevail.
“I don’t see that the UNESCO convention has any real teeth to it,” says MPAA topper Dan Glickman.
But the treaty’s existence is a propaganda victory that should serve as a wake-up call to Hollywood.
Twelve years ago, in the famed GATT spat over “cultural exception,” the French came across as the lunatic fringe for wanting to exclude cultural industries from world trade negotiations.
The Oct. 20 vote shows that international opinion has swung into line with them since. Even Britain supported the convention via a joint mandate earlier this year that allowed the European Commission to negotiate on behalf of the EU’s 25 countries.
On the ground, local filmmakers are also doing their best to send Hollywood into retreat.
Local movies now rep around 50% of the market in South Korea — helped by screen quotas that the U.S. is battling to dismantle.
Meanwhile, in Germany, local fare last year grabbed its biggest market share in three decades — and a Teuton film beat “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban” to the top slot at the box office.
Some local box office shares in 2004: