A group of Portuguese filmmakers took to the streets on Tuesday to protest new local film and TV legislation being voted on in parliament, which they claim will give foreign streaming giants an unfair advantage within the country’s film landscape.
Portugal is among the first countries in Europe to implement the European Union’s recently approved Audiovisual Media Services Directive (AVMS), which obligates foreign streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video to invest a portion of their revenue into local productions. Now that Brussels has approved the AVMS, parliaments across Europe must transpose it into law by 2021.
A crowd of people comprising Portuguese producers, directors, actors and film students staged the protest after writing an open letter to the government. In the document, they complained that under the proposed new rules, foreign streaming giants won’t be paying a tax on their subscription revenues and also won’t be forced to contribute to the country’s national film fund, called the ICA, which they consider to be the heart of Portugal’s film financing system.
The Portuguese protests have wide support within the country’s film community, including prominent producer Paulo Branco (“Cosmopolis”), directors Pedro Costa (“Vitalina Varela”), Joao Botelho (“The Maias: Scenes From Romantic Life”) and Teresa Villaverde (“Colo”) and actor/director Maria De Madeiros (“Pulp Fiction”).
The ICA, somewhat similarly to France’s CNC national film board, is partly funded by the country’s TV ad revenues that are currently suffering due to the pandemic’s toll on the local economy.
“With the migration of viewers to streaming platforms, revenue from television advertising” and other private sources is falling, the letter pointed out. “If the platforms, which increasingly dominate the market, are not taxed, ICA will be gradually depleted, and less and less Portuguese films will be produced,” it added, noted that forcing streamers to contribute would have been “an historic opportunity” to improve and strengthen ICA.
However a separate open letter from another group of Portuguese filmmakers presented a somewhat different take on the issue.
According to this other camp the fact that streamers “would be able to invest part of their financing directly in national production, without going through ICA” could instead “provide a closer relationship and opportunities with the largest possible number of independent producers.”
This other letter is also signed by some top Portuguese directors and producers such as João Maia who helmed local hit “Variações: Guardian Angel,” producer António da Cunha Telles (“The Green Years”) and Pandora da Cunha Telles among producers of this year’s Palestinian submission for the Oscars “Gaza, Mon Amour.”
Part of the problem is that by not going through ICA foreign streamers will have leverage to structure deals with local producers according to their preferred business model which is to full-finance a film and hold all or most rights.
Across Europe the model in place is instead based on a co-production system which leaves indie producers with plenty of backend and also more creative control, those who oppose the streamers claim.
“We can’t erase our national film system and hand over to these giant platforms all the power to kill our way of making films,” Portuguese actor/director Marta Mateus tells Variety.
There is clearly fear that the new legislation will impact Portugal’s local production ecosystem. “We can’t have them telling us how to produce our work, and control our work,” Mateus adds.
The current conflict in Portugal over the growing power of the streamers is set to soon play out in different permutations across Europe.