EU distribs aim to define ‘indie’

Org to hand out E85 million in 2006

European independent distributors met behind closed doors in Brussels Thursday to thrash out a definition of “independent” — with a view to narrowing eligibility for aid from the European Union’s Media program.

Media Plus will hand out E85 million ($107 million) in aid in 2006, more than half of which will go to assist distribs, exhibitors and exporters in distributing European films.

But next year, when a new seven-year Media program gets under way, the annual spend will be slashed to about $94 million.

Around $18.9 million of that will go to distribs. Europe’s smaller indies don’t want to share their slice of that coin with bigger rivals, especially those backed by broadcasters, such as France’s TFM, a subsid of commercial web TF1, and Italy’s Mediaset-owned Medusa.

“The Media program must take account of media consolidation in Europe. These distributors don’t run the same risks as truly independent companies,” said Gallic filmmaker Robert Guediguian, prexy of the Europa Distribution network, a body of 50-odd indies, which launched at last month’s Cannes Film Festival and is leading the drive to give the smaller companies more clout.

Members include key French players such as Pyramide, Les Films du Losange and Haut et Court, Belgium’s Cineart and Italy’s Lucky Red and Bim.

Complaining that too much Media money was going to commercially successful films whose backers didn’t need it, attendees Thursday pointed out that the European distributors of B.O. hit “Johnny English” received around $1.9 million last year from a total distribution kitty of $19 million.

But industry reps for distribs big and small said commercial success also should be encouraged and rewarded.

“The point of the Media program is to increase the market share of European films, and you don’t do that by only supporting smaller arthouse films. You also have to give success a boost,” said Gallic industry vet Gibert Gregoire, president of the Federation Intl. des Assn. des Distributeurs de Films, which reps distrib orgs from 12 European countries.

The gathering in Brussels was hosted by the Media program, which will be seeking the views of other industry players in coming months, before it decides how to allocate next year’s funds.

Media’s head honcho Aviva Silver will give a broad outline of the new program in Paris later this month.

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