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Belgian films struggle to attract locals

Organization aims to bolster presence at home

Films from French-speaking Belgium have a great reputation abroad, says Frederic Delcor, recently appointed head of the government organization that subsidizes cinema in the French part of the country. “The big challenge for us is to see to it that our films reach a wider public here in Belgium.”

Despite the kudos that helmers such as the Dardenne brothers or Joachim Lafosse earn at global fests, when their films hit Belgian screens, the locals tend to stay away. Delcor, whose background is in politics rather than the film industry, is under no illusion about what can be achieved.

“I don’t expect to see our films topping the box office because ours will remain an auteur cinema working with modest budgets, but I think we can do better,” he says. “Above all, we have to get away from this idea that there is only one type of Belgian cinema. There are comic films, serious films, social films, fantasy films, cartoons, psychological films. My main objective is to support this idea that there is great diversity in Belgian cinema.”

Several ideas are in the air for bringing this home to the public. Delcor wants directors to think about promotion much earlier in the production process, and subsidies will be refocused to encourage them. He also wants to see more local glamour. “We have actors and directors who are well-known, and I think we can do something with that, perhaps by creating a prize for Belgian cinema,” he says.

He is thinking partly of the red-carpet that leads to the Cesars and partly of the local star system that drives box office success in Flemish Belgium.

Also on the agenda are promotion initiatives with schools and local TV stations, and a push to improve the state of Belgian arthouse cinemas. Delcor thinks there may be a case for government help to promote Belgian cinema on alternative platforms, such as video-on-demand.

Many of these ideas originated in a rolling debate among producers, directors, distributors and exhibitors launched at last year’s Intl. Festival of Francophone Film in Namur. Director Nicole Gillet is drafting a report on their deliberations, to be agreed to by all the players in the coming months.

One radical suggestion is that some local films that fail on the bigscreen are really misplaced TV movies, led astray by production subsidies geared to theatrical release. Increased support for making TV movies with local nets would provide a more appropriate co-production route for such projects, and a more receptive audience.e.