SAN SEBASTIAN — A new public film funding mindset is emerging in Europe. Moderated with brio by SampoMedia/Michael Gubbins, himself head of Wales Film Cymru, one of the U.K.’s biggest regional funds, a San Sebastian panel – The Bigger Picture: A Fresh Approach to Public Film Funding – set out some of its evolving priorities. The presence on the table of Eurimages’ Enrico Vannucci and Creative Europe’s Media Program head Lucía Recalde led a pan-European weight to discussion. Here are five major takeaways from a largely consensus debate:
A phrase first used by Recalde, suggesting room for collaboration between the E.U’s Media Program and Eurimages.
The concept of “de-siloing,” whether across national boundaries or sectors, was, however, approved by many of the panelists who also took in producers – Czech Artemio Benki, analysts – Ilse Schooneknaep at SMIT/Brussels Vrij U; – and, among other policy makers: Gubbins, the Wallonie-Brussels Federation’s Jeanne Brunfault and Bérénice Honold, at Germany’s FFA.
“We need to step back from cultural protectionism. Not only producers but also also film funds should share knowledge,” said Schooneknaep. The Wallonie-Brussels Center courts distributors’ opinions on projects, and thrashes out distribution strategies with producers, Brunfault said. Distributors boarding films at an early stage helps to bring a knowledge gap about its potential marketing, she added. For Gubbins, silo-policies targeting just one sector belong to an analogue world.
According to a 2016 European Audiovisual Observatory Report, over 2010-14, E.U. public.sector funds spent by far most money on theatrical film production, an average annual €902.9 million over the period. Development (€45.4 million), distribution (€123.9 million) and promotion (€71.9 million), arguably categories where national industries need funding most, paled in comparison.
That said, “public-sector intervention that really shows up on a screen has to happen at an early point of development,” Gubbins argued.
In moves in this direction, Germany’s FFA has added a second development fund this year. The Wallonie-Brussels Federation’s Cinema and Audiovisual Center was studying moving more money from production to development, Brunfault said.
“We would rather have more money for that and stop a bad project then get a bad product. You won’t go anywhere with an in-between film,” she added. Czech Republic film authorities are already focusing more on development and distribution, said Benki. A decade ago, his screenwriter would have had to wait tables or at least moonlighted in order to pay for writing time.
Funds in Europe and Latin American are focusing ever more on larger movies. Last year, the FFA decided Germany had “too many films and most of average quality,” said the FFA’s Honold.
“One strategy is to focus more on higher-budget productions. We try to give our money to less films, but films that can reach larger audiences,” she added, stressing that its remit is to focus on “economically successful films.” but a key question is where that leaves new talent, or smaller, auteur films. Refocusing allocations has already proved traumatic, in Spain for example, for much of an auteur-based industry. One question is whether this trauma will now spread.
Distributors’ knowledge is often lost, remains unused, Gubbins argued. The same could be said of data, Recalde added. “There is a wealth of data that could be useful for the whole value chain of the industry. Media could contribute to finding and sharing it,” she added, suggesting Europa Cinemas statistics could be one source.
For a European art house industry where the theatrical openings for all but a select number of star auteurs or big breakouts has contracted, originality and great screenwriting are two of the only things first-time or smaller films have got going for them. Singularity may imply producers taking risk, however. Putting distributor’s knowledge and experience to work in the early stages of a project may allow the film, by giving some sense of its risk, to be more, not less, adventurous, Gubbins argued. And, he added, you might just end up with a better film.