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David Puttnam Calls for Consolidation of European Distribs in Tallinn Address

The Oscar-winning producer weighed in on a range of issues, from the Digital Single Market to VOD "bottom-feeders."

The looming impact on the European film industry of the proposed Digital Single Market — a movement to eliminate online market restrictions between EU nations — was the hot topic of conversation at Nov. 18’s European Film Forum in at the Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn, Estonia, with an introductory speech by Oscar-winning producer and U.K. Film Distributors’ Assn. president David Puttnam diplomatically addressing both sides of the debate.

Speaking to the Tallinn audience via video link, Puttnam declared that a border-free film market could foster larger audiences for European cinema across the continent, as well as “risk-taking distributors who are prepared to be part and parcel” of its development. On the other hand, he warned, removing national markets could make it harder for “smaller, more interesting” Euro productions to find financing: “There’s a real fear of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.”

Addressing a more personally cherished cause, he added that any changes to the copyright scheme should not be to the disadvantage of educators, as he expressed his wish for “the world of the classroom (to) be removed from restrictions in the commercial marketplace. … I want teachers to feel they can use whatever material they can get their hands on if that’s a way of enhancing the interest of students,” he stated.

On the business front, citing the increased possibilities digital technology has brought to the film marketing business, Puttnam declared that “bottom-feeders” like download outlets Amazon and Apple should become a more active part of the industry’s “risk profile.”

“This may be wishful thinking,” he admitted, explaining that such companies can move up the value chain not just via original programming, but by underwriting some of the “prohibitive” advertising costs for less mainstream films.

Finally, with or without the DSM, he called on European distributors across different territories to be more communicative, stating his concern that a “family business” mentality is overly dominant in the distribution sphere. “Consolidation in the marketplace … supported by the right kind of legislation,” he concluded, “could give the average European film, or the above-average European film, a real shot at competing with its very well-funded American competitors.”

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