A still from "Porno Melodrama", a French/Lithuanian co-production by Romas Zabarauskas (2011).

Scenario darkens for European cinema

Seven Oscars and eight Palmes d'Or in 10 years: the results of the MEDIA programme that has subsidised film production in Europe are largely positive. But now the funding is on the chopping block – to the dismay of filmmakers, who have started a petition.

Published on 8 March 2011 at 13:58
A still from "Porno Melodrama", a French/Lithuanian co-production by Romas Zabarauskas (2011).

The possibility that Brussels might limit or chop public support for European audiovisual productions covered by its MEDIA programme has put the sacred cows of cinema in the old continent on a war footing. An endless string of directors has already signed a manifesto deploring the plans of the European Commission to save money at the expense of European cinema. “We reject outright the elimination of the MEDIA Programme, including any merging of it with other kinds of broader programmes (...) We appeal to the President of the European Commission to receive a delegation of European filmmakers as soon as possible,” the statement continues.

However, sources inside the Commission have sought to deny the possibility of abolishing the programme. “The MEDIA programme is not in danger. It’s a great success,” says Dennis Abbott, spokesman for Androulla Vassiliou, Commissioner of Culture. The programme is, however, facing some challenges. On one hand it must adapt to technological changes in the sector, and on the other, it faces inevitable budget readjustments by EU institutions.

MEDIA was launched in 1991, and by the time the current budget of the Commission runs out in 2013 it will have pumped about 1.7 billion euros into European movies. In its twenty years behind the scenes the programme has played at some point a role in seven European films that have won Oscars in Hollywood, from Life is Beautiful in 1999 to this year’s The King's Speech, and in the last decade it has been behind eight Palmes d’Or in Cannes.

MEDIA was brought into being to contribute to the promotion and distribution of European films, but it also invests in training producers, scriptwriters and directors and in organising festivals. “By supporting independent distributors the programme has also made sure that European audiences can see films from other countries,” the spokesman says.

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There will be cinema that we will never see again

It may happen that MEDIA will be absorbed into a generic support programme for the European creative industries. Submerging it in a programme to promote the European creative arts paves the way for money now earmarked for films to be redirected to other causes. The mere possibility of cuts in EU subsidies to films, though, brings on the shakes to some in Spain. What would happen if the MEDIA programme ceased to exist? “Well, someone would buy the winner at Cannes or Berlin, of course – but only the winners,” said Josetxo Moreno of Golem, a Spanish distributor and exhibitor. “We brought the Romanian film Four months, three weeks, two days, which won the Palme d'Or. And because of it other jewels of Romanian cinema have been distributed in Spain, which without the MEDIA programme would never have been screened here.”

For Jose Luis Cienfuegos, director of the Gijón Film Festival, “a lot of events are taking hits at their economic foundations, and what’s more, the programme that has been the best at creating an awareness of European unity in the audiovisual field will disappear.” A festival such as Gijón, says its director, “receives a direct subsidy in exchange for which 70 percent of the films shown are European.” What matters, though, is neither the amount nor the money – “which is really felt on a shoestring budget” – but that “without it there would be no European consciousness.”

Enrique Gonzalez Macho, from the distributor and exhibitor Alta Films, puts his concern this way: “There will be cinema that we will never see again in Spain. The MEDIA Programme has fostered a broad range of European films, and that exposure has brought about a public demand for more.” And he goes further: “The TV stations do not buy European cinema, and people are downloading without paying... MEDIA works great, monitors each investment, and beyond helping you buy a movie, it supports you in its release in the theatres. In a time of changing business models, if MEDIA disappears European cinema will be finished, because this initiative has a multiplier effect on the public.”

Translated from the Spanish by Anton Baer


Brussels seeks to dispel fears

"Europe wants to cashier its cinema?" inquires Les Inrockuptibles, faced with the threat of the European Commission to dunk the MEDIA programme into a comprehensive "EU thingamajig”. “This programme doesn't burn a hole in the EU's coffers, and its effectiveness is real," the Parisian cultural magazine notes, quoting Claude-Eric Poiroux, General Manager of the Europa Cinemas network, who brandishes the figures to back it up. Cinemas that enjoy grants devoted 38 percent of their programming to non-national European films in 2010, which have a market share that fluctuates between eight and ten percent in Europe. "And all the while, the European sensibility is ebbing inexorably away", sighs the Les Inrocks. "No, Europe has not abandoned its filmmakers," insists the European Commissioner for Education, Androulla Vassiliou, in the columns of Libération. According to the Vassiliou, the fears that the MEDIA programme will be abolished are "unfounded" and "unjustified." "The possible diversification of funding sources will not necessarily mean doing away with that programme," explains the Commissioner, who says she wants to "engage in a constructive and open dialogue with all parties concerned."

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