8 to join EU pic program

Each country to make financial contribution to program

BRUSSELS — The European Union will allow eight candidate countries to join its Media Program, which works to boost the competitiveness of the film industry.

Bulgaria, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and Slovakia will join the program during 2002, or by 2003 at the latest. Slovenia will become a member soon.

Program gives new opportunities for the distribution and co-production of material across a wider market, and will provide support in training cinema professionals and in the promotion of their work.

The candidate countries have a meager market share of just .054% of the film industry in the EU. Only 42 films from central and eastern states were distributed commercially in one or more EU countries between 1996 and 2001, according to a recent study by the European Audiovisual Observatory.

Each of the countries will make a financial contribution to the Media Program and the PHARE program, the EU’s funding scheme for the region.

Philippe Kern, secretary general of European film companies alliance EFCA, which includes the U.K.’s FilmFour and France’s UGC, told Daily Variety, “We welcome this, as it is particularly important that the industry in Central and Eastern Europe is integrated with the rest of Europe so as not to leave the candidate countries’ domestic markets open to the risk of being dominated by Hollywood majors.”

The benefits are not all a one-way street, though. “The European audiovisual market will also benefit hugely from integrating the exciting cinematic talent that is emerging in these countries,” Kern said.