I traditionally spend a few days in Cannes for the International Film Festival in May to (of course) see films and discover the brilliant selection concocted by Thierry Fremaux, the most trusted cinema lover in the world, but above all to participate in events and meet people at this big international fair.
From a European political perspective, Cannes has developed as a relocated discussion forum for EU audiovisual policy and film funding. Commissioner Vassiliou, in charge of Education and Culture, has continued the tradition initiated by her predecessor, Viviane Reding, to promote the Media programme in Cannes and, at the same time, grace the red carpet with European filmmakers. Throughout the festival, Media programme officials welcome film professionals at the Media stand, offering them different services and organising lunches, cocktails and a conference. The European Audiovisual Observatory is also present and publishes its yearly focus on world film market trends as well as organising a conference which attracts hundreds of professionals every year.
This year, there were two hot topics of discussion for film professionals: the draft EC communication on state aid for films and the EC proposal for the Creative Europe programme.
The European Audiovisual Observatory conference on 19 May was about the new rules for film funding put forward by DG Competition. Obhi Chatterjee, case handler for film state aids, was brave enough to face the angry film professionals and film funds. Professionals take issue with DG COMP for changing the territorial spending criterion (1) without demonstrating that the existing rules distort competition in the EU, while DG COMP considers that it has not been demonstrated that these rules are positive and necessary for the European film industry. What is positive here is that there is a dialogue and that there is room for improvement as the rules are just a proposal which has not been submitted to the political hierarchy yet. I’m sure a compromise will be found by the end of the year.
Second item: Commissioner Vassiliou’s Creative Europe programme for 2014-2020 as an umbrella for the existing Culture and Media programmes. Whereas we could have expected some synergies for the cultural and creative sectors from such a proposal, each camp has defended its own programme and apart from a financial facility (which should address both the cultural and audiovisual sectors), the only apparent synergy so far is the merger of the EU’s Culture Contact Points and Media Desks…
Philippe Brunet, head of Commissioner Vassiliou’s cabinet, was in Cannes to alert film professionals that any discussion on the content of the Creative Europe programme was suspended prior to the conclusion of discussions on the EU budget. Commissioner Vassiliou has proposed an increase of 35% for the new programme (1.8 billion – or 0.17% of the total budget of 1,025 billion) and will fight for it. However, most Member States are globally reluctant to any EU budget increase at a time of crisis and some of them still consider that it is not up to the EU to deal with cultural issues.
Back home at the end of the festival, film professionals might be left feeling bitter: public financial support for European films is being threatened on all sides. To continue to develop stories and produce films which reflect the cultural diversity of Europe, they will have to convince a) the European Commission that money spent by Member States to help develop, produce and distribute films on their territory is not a distortion of competition and b) the Member States that EU money spent in the cultural and audiovisual sectors benefits their economy and will support growth and jobs. Not a bit schizophrenic?
(1) In the existing rules, a Member State who provides for financial support to a film can impose that up to 80% of the production budget is spent on its territory. DG COMP proposes to change this criterion into a possible obligation to spend only up to 100% of the aid on the territory.