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Quota conundrum

Cinema Day spotlights Euro-U.S. pic divide

BRUSSELS — European Union Cinema Day on Tuesday will feature a series of initiatives to help bolster local filmmaking.

The event is another weapon in the European film industry’s arsenal to help European films compete more effectively on a global basis, and an opportunity to lobby the EU to develop a more powerful audiovisual policy.

The Cinema Day, marking the culmination of the European Cinema Forum that began Friday, will be held in the gleaming European Parliament building in Strasbourg.

Addressing the deficit

In the afternoon, a swarm of industry associations, lobbyists and union representatives will put their case to Europe’s parliamentarians, members of the European Commission and a sprinkling of EU culture ministers that Europe’s movie business is being neglected. With a $6 billion-plus entertainment trade deficit with the U.S., the issue is becoming critical for the industry’s survival.

There is an unusual air of urgency surrounding this year’s Forum, given the imminence of the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks in Seattle, which will threaten the quotas the EU is allowed to impose on audiovisual imports.

Degrees of dispute

Participants in the Forum have been divided along North-South lines, with the dispute occasionally turning heated.

Delegates from northern EU countries such as Denmark, Germany, Ireland and the U.K. have expressed interest in dropping the quotas, citing the need for a more democratic approach and what they see as greater advantages for European moviegoers in a non-quota system.

And while French, Spanish and Italian delegates all strongly backed quotas of some sort, there is nonetheless a common feeling that the current quota system is not working.

Quota work-around

A delegate from Spanish public television, for example, said his network shows American films in primetime, but airs quota-mandated European movies early in the morning, and that this was clearly to no one’s advantage. While delegates from both sides seem to accept that quotas are likely to be phased out in the next three years, reps from the northern countries — especially those for the flourishing British, Danish and Irish pic industries — were predictably more enthused than their counterparts from the south.

The industry will also use EU Cinema Day to make a case for an increase in funds when Media II, the European Commission’s program of support for the audiovisual industry, is replaced by Media III next year. There is concern that the new Parliament, elected in June and dominated by the center-right, will cast an unsympathetic eye on cinema funding.

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