Biz healthy even as economy falters, directors say

Whereas Europe’s economic system is on the brink of collapse, the continent’s film biz is in relatively good health, according to the filmmakers behind some of the nominees at the European Film Awards, which takes place Saturday in Berlin.

Peter Aalbaek Jensen, exec producer of two of the best film nominees, Lars von Trier’s “Melancholia” and Susanne Bier’s “In a Better World,” is upbeat about the prospects for European indie shingles like his own, Zentropa, which he and Von Trier set up in 1992.

“The video-on-demand market will be a big help for our type of films,” he said, adding that prices paid for Zentropa films in the U.S. had risen sharply in the past year “due to the fact that VOD in the U.S. is functioning so well. And we all know that if it works in the U.S., it will come to Europe in a couple of years.”

Aalbaek Jensen said the biggest threat to the Euro biz is that films lack the entertainment punch of Hollywood movies. “It is taken for granted that if you are a European filmmaker, you hate Hollywood. Admire Hollywood for Christ’s sake, and learn from it. We need to face the fact that if European film has a crisis, it is because too many films are boring,” he said.

Helmer brothers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne, whose “The Kid With a Bike” is also a best film nominee, see the EFA lineup as reflecting the diversity and individualism of Euro filmmaking. “European cinema tends to be made up of prototypes rather than industry types,” Jean-Pierre Dardenne said. Luc added, “The films nominated are those that have tried something new.”

The Dardennes bemoaned that fact that it is getting more complicated to finance independent films like theirs. Money “has to be pulled down from a large number of sources,” said Luc, while prices paid by international buyers had fallen.

Wim Wenders, whose 3D dance documentary “Pina” is competing for the EFA docu prize, is concerned that the tough economic climate could put European filmmakers off making cutting-edge pics.

“The budget range for these films has shrunk. As a reaction, many films are made in more ‘formulated’ ways. I believe that the opposite reaction is more appropriate: to break out of these formulas and turn to innovative forms again. That has always been a strength of European cinema,” he said.

Wenders said that pan-European releases of local indie pics is one way to improve the biz. “We are still far away from that — only American films achieve that goal,” he said.

The Dardenne brothers’ shingle, Les Films du Fleuve, is teaming with distributor Cineart and Belgian production houses Artemis and Zebab Prods. to reopen Brussels’ Palace Cinema, built by Pathe in 1913, as a four-screen arthouse. Backed by Belgian state funding, it will bow March 2014. “We have to educate young audiences about European films,” Luc Dardenne said.

(John Hopewell contributed to this article.)

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more