France’s Presidential Election Puts Entertainment Industry at Crossroads

PARIS – Some voters in France liken their upcoming presidential runoff to choosing between “the plague or cholera.” But within the country’s film and TV industries, the young centrist Emmanuel Macron is the clear favorite over far-right leader Marine Le Pen, whose victory would have damaging consequences for France’s vibrant cultural sector, figures in the industry say.

Macron and Le Pen made it into the May 7 runoff after coming in first and second, respectively, in Sunday’s initial round of voting. Currently, polls suggest that Macron has a big lead over Le Pen in a head-to-head matchup – the first in decades without a candidate from one of France’s main parties. Macron is running as an independent, and Le Pen was leader of the National Front until stepping down Monday.

Le Pen’s platform barely touches on culture. But she has declared that, if elected, she would ditch France’s anti-piracy law, which was created in 2009. Instead, Le Pen would put in place a global license, which opponents say would legalize piracy as well as jeopardize territorial licensing and French financing schemes.

France’s creative community also fears that Le Pen would try to suppress cultural content deemed too liberal and would create an ultra-conservative milieu in which the financing and exhibition of thought-provoking French movies would be more difficult.

Such fears are not groundless. There have been various examples over the years of films being censored in French cities governed by far-right officials. Just last month, the mayor of Luc-en-Provence (near the French Riviera) ordered Lucas Belvaux’s “This Is Our Land” to be removed from theaters because he deemed it too critical of the far right.

“This anti-democratic decision is an act of blatant censorship. The far right has reminded us once more of its skewed vision for culture. The far right also forgets that there is no such thing as ‘official’ art,” said ARP, France’s authors, directors and producers’ guild, in a statement.

“The ARP is reminding each of us the fundamental values of the freedom of creation and expression which we must defend at all costs.”

Le Pen is also keen to rein in the press. She’s calling for a makeover of the freedom of press and the “creation of a code of conduct for journalists.”

By contrast, Macron is said to hold progressive values that are more in tune than other candidates with French cultural communities, especially in the film industry. While serving as minister of the economy in current President Francois Hollande’s government, Macron helped create and promote French Tech, a cluster of French digital startups.

“He’s very positive, forward-thinking, and, at the same time, he’s not overly confrontational and aggressive. We need someone like him in France to shake things up,” said Stephane Celerier, chairman of Mars Distribution and VP of Studiocanal.

Macron has received few official endorsements from within France’s film and TV industry; for the most part, French artists and industry players tend to steer clear from political endorsements.

Macron has pledged to create a “cultural pass,” worth 500 euros ($542), that would be given to French residents on their 18th birthday, to encourage young people to attend cultural events in France. Macron said the idea was inspired by an initiative carried out by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi in Italy.

The pass would be partly financed by a tax levied on Google, Amazon, Facebook and Apple, since the digital giants “benefit from this access to culture, so we must have them contribute,” Macron said in an interview with France Culture. “The Internet only makes sense if we build this together.”

Macron is well-versed in digital-related topics, pointed out Mathieu Debusschere, a French filmmaker who is the general manager of the ARP. “He has called for all digital services who operate in France to contribute to creation on a level playing field. These digital platforms must fully take part in our financing schemes: the survival of artistic diversity is at stake,” Debusschere told Variety.

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