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The Future of Film Funding in Europe

Petar Mitric reports on the MEDICI programme, a series of workshops on the future of public film funding in Europe.

What is the future of the public film funds in Europe? Are they “a player” or “a piece” within the European film industry? What are they going to look like in ten years? What disrupts their objectives and mission? These are some of the questions the MEDICI programme tackled in a series of six three-day workshops held across Europe between 2012 and 2016.

The workshops, proposed by FOCAL, the Swiss foundation for professional training in cinema and audiovisual media, brought together representatives from different public film funds from across Europe, to discuss each other’s support schemes and compare best practice. The aim was to make funders feel less isolated and more empowered at a time when public film funding is being disrupted in multiple ways.

Challenges

film fund picture2

Image credit: FOCAL

Public film funds in Europe are charged with various objectives: safeguarding national cultures, contributing to cultural diversity, supporting new talent, and financing the development, production and distribution of cultural films that cannot rely solely on their market potential. The challenges to pursuing these objectives, which public film funders repeatedly emphasize during every MEDICI workshop, can be classified into four categories: political, economic, social and technological.

Politically, public film funds are definitely not “a player”, but “a piece”. When financed by the governments, they are mostly dependent on politicians who have become increasingly populist or right-wing in the crisis-hit Europe. At the same time, the people running public film funds, just as film practitioners themselves, tend to be more liberal and critical, thus failing to represent the dominant societal discourse and meet the demands of elected politicians. This tension between the ideology of financiers, on the one hand, and professional aspirations of the beneficiaries of public support, on the other, remains a major political challenge. Hence, funds continually explore additional financing sources, such as telecom operators.

The economic challenge goes hand-in-hand with the emerging idea that public film funds should measure their success mainly in quantitative terms (e.g. number of festival awards, box office, admission, etc.) in order to justify their purpose. In the case of traditional cultural public film funds in Europe, such success-evaluation methods only prove that the percentage of money-making films supported by the funds is extremely small.

This raises the question of whether film funds should keep supporting only the traditional business model based on theatrical release and cultural value or turn to some new business models that will bring supported films to a wider audience. Hence, some European funds have tried to complement the support schemes for traditional film formats with support schemes for transmedia projects (e.g. game support scheme at the Danish Film Institute or the EU’s MEDIA scheme for the development of interactive projects).

Social challenges revolve around the miscommunication between the audiences and films that public funds support. The funds do not have reliable data on the audiences’ behaviour. They lack knowledge of how people respond to the supported content, and who is willing to watch what. Big corporations, such as Amazon or Netflix, and public broadcasters have such data. However, the public film funds, just as many independent producers, usually cannot access it. Thus, the public film funds cannot know if they overfocus on supporting the supply side of film industry, while neglecting the demand side.

film fund picture3

Image credit: FOCAL

The public funds also face demographic misrepresentations within film industries. There is an ongoing issue of gender imbalance within both selection committees and supported project. The same applies to ethnic and other minorities as well as representation of different social classes. This challenge is particularly relevant considering that taxpayers originating from all demographic groups finance the public film funds.

Finally, there are technological challenges. The internet, for example, has introduced new release windows that increasingly diminish the importance of cinema theatres among the young audiences. The question is whether funds should focus on encouraging young people to go more to cinema theatres or should they find ways to make the young audiences watch films through apps, mobile devices, social networks and other technological devices.

Technology also modernizes delivery infrastructure and influences the audiovisual content and audience expectations. However, European public film funds simply cannot afford to meet the global technological demands with their current budgets. European films cannot compete with technologically advanced Hollywood blockbusters whose content is mostly based on expensive special effects.

Solutions

After the cycle of five MEDICI workshops, the representatives of public film funds concluded that the funds cannot ignore these political, economic, social and technological challenges. Despite a general consensus that the funds should remain primarily cultural and socially relevant, there is the need for a reform. The funds should:

Outcomes

MEDICI workshops has inspired some public film funds to undertake some concrete measures. The Netherlands Film Fund and Wallonia Brussels Federation of Belgium, for example, signed a co-production agreement for the purpose of connecting producers from Wallonia and the Netherlands. Such a move empowers film funds to take international co-production initiatives outside of the framework of bilateral co-production treaties that are negotiated between the governments and often perceived as a primarily political tool.

Likewise, inspired by the gender quota regimes that have successfully been implemented by the Swedish Film Institute since 2011, the Austrian Film Institute, Croatian Audiovisual Center and the pan-European film fund Eurimages have launched similar gender-equality initiatives.

Meanwhile, unconventional project-development schemes, like the games support scheme initiated by the Danish Film Institute, have inspired funds like Eurimages to support the type of less-scripted projects that are emerging due to technological revolution.

The sixth and final MEDICI workshop will take place in Zurich in September 2016, and will be entirely dedicated to the role of public film funds in content development.

Petar Mitric is a PhD Fellow at the University of Copenhagen affiliated with the MeCETES project. His thesis focuses on the second generation of co-production treaties and co-production agreements in Europe. He is organising a symposium on European co-productions at the University of Copenhagen on November 23-24. See call for papers.

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