European subsidy shift

Programs may merge but funding won't be cut

Change is coming to Europe’s film subsidy system, but reports of its imminent demise turn out to be exaggerated.

Producers, writers and directors were concerned following rumors at last month’s Berlin Film Festival that the deep-pocketed Media Program, which has €755 million ($1.06 billion) to spend between 2007-13, faced budget cuts or a merger with other European Union initiatives.

The program hands out coin for film development and distribution, plus aid for other audiovisual product. It also trains professionals in the sector and supports cinemas showing Euro movies.

The fear was in part a reaction to comments that the budget beyond 2013 was not yet secure.

The European Commission will propose a budget for the next phase of the program at the end of 2011. It will then be debated by EU governments and the European Parliament, who have the final say.

Industry campaigning prompted EC topper Jose Manuel Barroso to release a statement on March 7 saying that reports of a budget cut were “completely inaccurate.”

While the industry campaign may have misfired on this count, it may still help persuade governments not to shave points off the Media Program budget later in the negotiations.

Merger fears were closer to the mark, since the EC wants to incorporate the Media Program into a broader framework of support for the cultural and creative industries. This “creative Europe” program will also be outlined at the end of 2011.

Jan Truszczynski, who heads the EC department in charge of the Media Program, told a Brussels hearing Friday that he acknowledged the film industry’s concerns that this would weaken the program.

“I’m 100% confident that if we move further towards the creation of a large creative Europe program, the Media part of it — a distinct strand within the program as we see it — will not suffer at all. On the contrary it is bound to obtain greater benefits,” he said.

Synergies with other EU cultural programs would be one advantage, particularly around digital technologies. There would also be a stronger connection with EU policy on economic growth and job creation, which would help protect the budget if negotiations get tough.

French filmmakers association ARP, a prime mover in the industry campaign, said that it understood the potential benefits but remained concerned about the Media Program’s freedom to act.”Cinema is a very complex and competitive business compared to the other arts, which is why we want complete autonomy,” said ARP topper Radu Mihaileanu, attending the hearing. He also wanted assurances that officials handling Media would be industry savvy.