Two film powers key to Europe’s multifaceted film industry, Belgium’s Wallonia Brussels Federation and the Netherlands, ink Feb. 25 a bilateral co-production treaty designed to open up their national industries to broader and dynamizing horizons.
Punching above its weight in Europe, Wallonia-Brussels – made up of 4.5 million French-speaking Belgians in southern Belgium and Brussels, while Flanders takes in northern Belgium and Brussels – regularly places movies at Cannes – think Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne – and, sluiced by Belgian national tax breaks, has been the go-to co-producer of French movies in Europe.
The Netherlands is the European Union’s sixth-biggest movie market in gross box office terms, worth Euros 275.7 million () last year, with a large feature output –84 features in 2014 – and a considerable home market share: 20.9% in 2015, 18.7% last year.
Netherlands and Wallonia-Brussels have co-produced before, as on Antoine Cuypers’ “Prejudice” (pictured) backed by Benoit Roland’s Brussels-based Wrong Men and Dutch film house CTMPictures. But to do so, they used the Council of Europe’s Co-production Convention. The new bilateral treaty makes it much easier to co-produce, stipulating minimum equity participations of 20%, which can be lowered in special cases to 10%, while still allowing movies to be recognized as official co-productions and so qualify for national incentives, said Jeanne Brunfaut, deputy director general of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation Audiovisual and Multimedia General Service.
Also, unlike the Convention, the bilateral pact mainly concerns cinema but may be used by analogy for TV programs, she added.
The Wallonia-Brussels-Netherlands treaty comes as national film balances and interests – economic and artistic – are evolving. Traditionally, while Belgium has a long tradition of co-production, especially with France, Luxembourg and Switzerland, there have been very few co-productions between French-speaking Belgium and Netherlands, only two in recent years.
But “French financing is getting more and more difficult to access for non-French films or films not shot in French,” Brunfaut said.
For the Netherlands, the treaty opens the door to not only the Belgian but French market. Distributed by Cinéart in Benelux, troubled family drama “Prejudice” grossed $44,387 in Belgium, $175,000 and counting for Les Films du Losange in France.
But, as ever with co-productions, it’s not just a question of money.
“We felt it was time to push our producers out of their comfort zone and try to diversify their co-production partners,” she added. At recent co-production meetings, in Utrecht and Cannes, for example, French-speaking Belgian and Dutch producers showed not only a “real interest” in co-operating but insisted co-production should be not only financial but include “valuable artistic and technical input from both sides.”
The Wallonia Brussels Federation is now negotiating bilateral co-production pacts with Brazil, Mexico and Chile, linking to one of the most dynamic regional cinemas in the world.
A Dardenne Copacabana-set movie might seem difficult to imagine. But, as underscored by their recent appearance at a Ventana Sur Cannes Film Week for a Q & A, where they were mobbed like pop-stars, they certainly command an audience outside what night have been thought their natural markets. And for filmmakers, the chance of broadening one’s talent pool for a movie is as exciting as tapping into more national incentives in order to scale up n its production values.