To millions of film lovers around the world, the upcoming Cannes film festival (15-26 May) is like a pleasant breeze, which has come to add to the merriness of spring. As excitement rises and fans await to get a glimpse of red carpet glamour, we take the chance to sit back and think about cinema…European cinema and…the MEDIA programme (2007-2013) – the European Commission’s support programme, designed to increase the circulation of European works, while preserving European cultural diversity.
Its actions include co-financing training initiatives for professionals, sponsoring film festivals and facilitating access to finance for the pre-production, development, distribution and promotion of film projects. World famous, award-winning films such as ‘Amélie’ (2001), ‘La vita è bella’ (1997), ‘Dogville’ (2003), ‘Volver’ (2006), and more recently, ‘Amour’ (2012), were all supported by MEDIA.
Eager to learn more about European cinema and MEDIA, we interviewed Mr. Dennis Abbott, Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth Spokesman for EU Commissioner Androula Vassiliou and Ms. Aviva Silver, Head of the MEDIA Unit.
When asked in what ways European cinema is different from Hollywood cinema, Ms. Aviva Silver, explained that: “The average budget for an EU film is €5 million, whereas for a Hollywood film it’s about €45 million, a budget which, of course, includes marketing/advertising. So in essence, they’re incomparable. There are also classical differences: American cinema focuses on the producer and, theoretically, every film should make money, even if that is not always the case. Adding to that, around 20% of US films are sequels.
European cinema focuses on the director and European directors do, to some extent, have more freedom to experiment with subject matter.
Moreover, EU films are funded by a patchwork of complicated financial arrangements, thus intervention is a necessity.
Mr. Abbott added that: “As US films have much bigger budgets, they can’t afford to take risks. European cinema, traditionally known as art house cinema, however, isn’t about making franchises, sequels or trilogies, it’s about telling a great story set in any of the member states, in a variety of languages. EU cinema is often highly original and deals with difficult topics through character-driven stories. A perfect example is ‘Bullhead’ (2011) by Flemish director Michael R. Roskam. It tells the tragedy of a guy who works on a cattle farm and makes a fishy legal hormone deal with a veterinarian and a beef trader. Bullhead is a typical European art house film: it’s beautifully filmed, relatively low budget, there are no special effects, and it solely relies on the artistry of the director and the power of the story. So, in fewer words it’s a human story, exceptionally well told.
However, although European films place the emphasis on the artistry rather than the box-office, every year numerous art house, MEDIA-supported films not only win Oscars and international recognition that goes way beyond EU borders, but they are also box-office successes. That was the case of recent films like ‘The Artist’ (2011), ‘The King’s Speech’ (2010) and ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ (2008) among many many others.”
L.K.: But how are films selected for MEDIA support?
A.S: First of all, there are no preferences in terms of subject matter, but films shouldn’t be commercial messengers nor should they depict extreme violence or racism. There are 15-20 different mechanisms/pathways for funding distributors, sales agents and independent TV producers, for instance.
We have a weighting system to correct market imbalances and help smaller countries with a weaker film industry receive funding. Additional points are given to smaller countries, depending on the size of the market, and to projects that are rare or have a niche audience, like children’s films for instance. It then depends on the number of distributors, the number of countries forming a co-production, and of course on the ‘European-ness’ of the project.
L.K.: In the programme’s evaluation reports, it is mentioned that the complexity of administrative procedures deters newcomers. Can you give us a few examples of steps taken to simplify the applicants’ administrative burden?
D.A.: A new Creative Europe programme has been proposed and we are making every effort towards speeding up the application process. For instance, we’re increasingly moving towards e-forms that can be completed online thus reducing paper work. We’ve also decided to remove the Media Management Committee, which up until now decided about grants and slowed down the process. In addition, we’ve introduced the lump sum payments for project development, which should result in quicker decision-making, once it’s been made clear that a project is a genuine co-production.
L.K.: In which territory and/or market segment has the MEDIA programme had the largest impact?
D.A.: In many territories – I would say that the largest impact could be seen through the Europa Cinemas network around the world, which helps increase the circulation of European works, while promoting cultural diversity through a system of reciprocity. Europa cinemas within the EU commit to screening Third cinema films, and vice versa. MEDIA especially has long-term impact through its professional training networks.
L.K.: What changes will the new MEDIA programme, starting in 2014, bring?
D.A.: We plan to increase the funding for high-budget TV series, co-productions, from the current €500 000 cap to €1 million, but that is still being negotiated, as it will depend on our overall budget.
L.K.: Which MEDIA supported films are nominated at the Cannes film festival at the end of the month?
A.S: MEDIA has supported several films in both the Official Selection and Un Certain Regard categories this year, including: ‘Michael Kohlhaas’ by Arnault de Pallières, ‘Le Passé’by Asghar Farhadi, who won the MEDIA price last year, ‘Jeune et Jolie’ by Francois Ozon, ‘La Grande Belleza’ by Paolo Sorrentino, ‘Borgman’ by Alex van Warmerdam, ‘Only God Forgives’ by Nicolas Winding Refn and ‘L’image Manquante’ by Rithy Panh, among others.