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Brexit Poses Challenges to Independent European Distributors

KARLOVY VARY — While film education was top of the agenda at Europa Distribution’s 10th annual conference, the Brexit hangover loomed large among attendees this year.

Members of the independent distributor’s network met over several days at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival and Europa Distribution general manager Christine Eloy told Variety that a Brexit could have a detrimental effect on Creative Europe, the E.U.’s €1.46 billion ($1.62 billion) support program for cultural and creative sectors across the 28-member trading bloc. Creative Europe’s Media program, which invests in the film, television and games industries, is responsible for more than half its budget and has backed 29 films screening at Karlovy Vary this year.

Eloy adds that if there is a Brexit — “and that it’s still a very big question,” she stressed — it would be critical for the British industry to fight to remain part of Creative Europe, which could be a possible outcome. Norway, for instance, which is not an E.U. member, is still part of the program.

Eloy said that if Creative Europe lost Britain from the program, European distributors will lose out significantly, as most of Media’s funding – some 39% of it – is allocated to non-national distribution and online distribution of content.

“A lot of this money goes to British films,” she said. “If the U.K. is outside of Europe and outside of the Creative Europe program, it means that if a Czech distributor wants to release an English movie, he won’t get any support from the E.U.”

U.K. projects such as “Paddington” and “Slumdog Millionaire” received €661,455 ($858,861) and €1.3 million ($1.7 million), respectively, in distribution support. Even Oscar best pic and global B.O. hit “The King’s Speech” was awarded more than €1 million ($1.4 million) to help the pic reach European auds.

Eloy adds: “If a British film is considered to be a bit fragile or risky in a territory, it will be much more difficult to find a distributor. The risks are so high, the costs are so high, that if you do not have that little mattress so that if you fall you won’t break your arm, you won’t do it.”

According to the Creative Europe Desk U.K., there have been no immediate changes following the E.U. referendum “for those who have successfully applied, are currently being assessed, or are planning to apply for Creative Europe funding” — at least not through 2017. 

The potential fallout from Brexit will be one of the main topics at the European Screens Conference in York, U.K., from September 5-7. Confab is organised by the E.U.-backed research program Mediating Cultural Encounters through European Screens (MeCETES). 

Europa Distribution’s program this year at Karlovy Vary included panel discussions on film education and working closer with local schools to foster a greater interest for cinema among children.

While no one solution works for all markets, says Eloy, distribs from across the E.U. shared ideas and strategies including introducing things such as loyalty cards for kids, an idea that Scotland’s Glasgow Film Theater has introduced. The incentive allows theatre card carriers to earn points towards free films or special offers.

VOD and digital strategies also remain major issues for Europa Distribution and will be part of the focus for the network’s next gathering in San Sebastian in September.

Europa Distribution members in Karlovy Vary nevertheless managed to discuss the subject privately with Ted Hope, head of Amazon’s original movie division, at a closed dinner during the fest.

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