|The Courier N° 145 - May - June 1994- Dossier : European Union: the Way forward - Country Report: Ethiopia (EC Courier, 1994, 104 p.)|
The GATT negotiators spent some time on the question of making an exception to the rules for cultural products and the Courier decided to discuss the idea with JoCorrea, the maker of a number of feature films and, since 1984, Seeretary-General of FERA (the European Federation of Audiovisual Film Makers).
· Can you tell us whether any agreement has been reached on the idea of exempting audiovisual products from the rules of GATT?
- Audiovisual productions in general are fully covered by the GATT trade rules at the moment, obviously, which is to say that they are going to be subject to commercial-type regulations at some stage, like it or not. A kind of nonagreement has been sold as a victory for the idea of exempting cultural products, but it is not a victory at all and I am not sure what we should be sorry about. We aren't anti-American, obviously. Most European filmmakers, very successful ones, often work for the Americans and the Americans adapt many of our European works. So there is no question of any segregation as far as we are concerned. We even think that many American filmmakers and writers who are unable or unwilling to be part of the system are faced with just as big a problem as we are here in Europe - I mean, how to express themselves without the backing of a mighty machine which in fact doesn't even make a profit. I should say that it does make a profit overall, but not with every single film. In fact, very few films manage to be major box-office successes. But one big one, a company success, will pay for a whole series of films. And all this machinery forces people to make a particular type of film and take a particular global view of the workings of society. But we, as intellectuals, believe in free expression. Films cost a lot, of course. They aren't supposed to be boring, that goes without saying, and they aren't the same as books or paintings, but they are an opportunity to convey what a unit or a region or a nation thinks and how people live and feel. The problem with GATT at the moment is that the US is making comparisons between different industrial structures so as to try to save its second biggest export industry. It is accusing us of being protectionist and wanting to preserve an exception which is merely the right to express ourselves in sound and pictures. But as we see it, it is the US which is trying to preserve something entirely unacceptable, i.e. a world monopoly on pictures.
· Economic and cultural arguments apart, the European press has often put 'serious' films on one side and cinema spectaculars on the other. Which do you think is more important?
- First of all, let us never forget that Europe invented the cinema and, until not so long ago, 10 years maybe, it made films which were great films. This business of big films versus little films is all wrong. Until the period between the two world wars, the greatest films were European, but, by now, obviously, our national film industries have been run down by the system in which they have had to survive. At one point, survival was easier if you made films which were just subsidised and paid less and less heed to the audience. But our federation is fairly clear on this. It wants nothing to do with decisions about what each producer is going to make, of course, but it is clear that we do not like the way things have gone. We have analysed why the vast majority of our films are small ones. All these small films prove is that the resources put into them were virtually nonexistent. And this led to producers, or would-be producers, taking on young, relatively malleable film makers, all making their first films, largely if not completely subsidised by the State, failing to make the grade and having the film end up in the cellar under one of our ministries here in Europe.
That does not stop us from giving our support to new films when they come out, even if they are experimental, provided that the producer manages to get financial backing from someone else as well as the State.
One particularly difficult problem here since the late 1970s, or thereabouts, is the disappearance of national distributors, who were snapped up by the American distribution network for which Europe was only a second market at that stage. In fact, the Americans are very careful and they did it initially with due respect for the continent and the cinema being produced in the various countries. In the early stages, up until the end of the 1970s, all the film makers you have heard of today - Scola, Bertolucci, Malle, Costa-Gavras and Truffaut, for example - were financed indirectly by the Americans, to the point where Truffaut became one of the models for all American producers, with just one film in English. So we won't swallow the idea of our present decline being due to lack of talent. It isn't. It is a complete lack of organisation, particularly in distribution. Our cinema audiences have fallen off badly and the main cause is a total ignorance of European films. They don't know what the European cinema is any more.
· Going beyond the cinema itself, some people are calling for audiovisual quotas, aren't they? Where does your Federation stand on this?
- The reason why we spend so much time talking about the cinema is that it has such an enormous impact on American marketing. It is through the cinema and by the cinema that they get their particular brand of expansion across. You could go so far as to say that these days the Americans are prepared to inject vast sums into the film industry and get them back from video and television. There is a whole well-thought-out rationale here based on the film industry being the only one to create real myths. So myths are something which the industry is interested in, and not just the picture industry itself either, for the whole of the marketing sector is involved too. And that is why we say that what we Europeans need to do is go out and win back our European audiences. We think it would be reasonable to say that 30-35% of the people who don't even go to the cinema any more would be happy to turn out to see films that were different from those the Americans are forcing on us at the moment.
The second thing is television quotas. I have to say that, intellectually speaking, no producer is in favour of quotas. We are more interested in freedom and openness. The Community's frontier free TV directive doesn't reflect what we asked the Commission for at the time. We wanted political support. The quota system was the Commission's idea. At that stage, Britain and Denmark were blocking our proposal for a European production fund, as was Germany, which wanted to see aid for distribution rather than production.
At that stage, distribution was not really a major concern for us and the Federation and I fought hard for the production fund. Now, though, we are in sackcloth and ashes, because we did overlook the whole question of getting to the audience. We made films and we thought that just making them meant that all the rest would follow suit. But it doesn't. If the films don't get distributed, the rest does not follow suit. The current question of quotas is all tied up with the fact that there is no valid alternative on offer and, obviously, we are not opting for quotas lightly. The quotas are there to give us a period of transition, until we can start competing for the market freely, including the American market, until the end of the 1990s.
· The European Commission is producing a green paper on audiovisual productions. What do you expect out of it?
- We expect a reaction. We think that the good thing about GATT is that it managed to get a discussion about the audiovisual sector going in such a way as to make it impossible for any European government to deny its economic dimension or technological importance. What we are hoping for now is that, politically, they will agree that it would be reasonable to treat this industry the same way as others. It's very odd, isn't it? Today, almost no government can create jobs by investing in the usual sectors of technology any longer. In fact investment does almost the opposite. Whenever you give money to an industry, that industry restructures, buys new machinery and puts people on the dole queue. But, since the 1980s, we have had one sector, the audiovisual industry, which has been steadily growing by nearly 5% a year. That's fantastic. And who is reaping the benefits? The American industry, by and large! We now know that there is an enormous profit potential which clearly doesn't cover all the costs in the first year. Nowadays the costs of a film can be recouped over 20 or 30 or 40 years, with no problems. But no-one in the picture industry is used to this sort of thinking. Make a stock of films now and you can capitalise on it pretty well for ever. So can we afford to look at the picture industry now in the same simplistic way people looked at iron and steel or the aircraft industry years ago? You know as well as I do that there was no aircraft industry at the end of the 1950s. There were big American planes and virtually nothing else, but then, at some stage, there came the political will to have an aircraft industry in Europe and now it has almost 46% of the world market. The audiovisual industry doesn't even have 2%.
· You just said that the film industry is the most wonderful myth-creating industry and that the European creative imagination must at all costs be preserved. What is that creative imagination, in your view?
- The history of European culture and world culture proves that cultural developments are shaped by cultural mix and cultural exchange.
Look at what Europe has achieved despite all the misfortunes and the disastrous times it has been through. Italy under the Borgias was terrible, but it was still a period when the most marvell-ous things were created, whereas Orson Welles said that the only thing a peaceful country like Switzerland managed to invent was the cuckoo clock. I felt very European when I was in Switzerland, in Lausanne, recently, having lunch with a friend of mine, a Spanish producer. The waitress brought our avocados and then she came almost running back to the table, saying she was sorry she had forgotten the ketchup. Well, we declined the ketchup and she smiled and said: 'Are you European, then?' I've experienced that sort of thing before - not just with ketchup, of course - and it goes to show that there is a series of values which we share. If you were to take the 350 million inhabitants of Europe and move them somewhere else, they would still feel European when they came back.
There is a problem with the European identity, but the only alternative is nationalism and all the havoc it has been causing. Nationalism is something you have to be very careful about. That is not to say that you respect other places so much that you can't feel that you belong in the place where you were born. All European values ever since the Middle Ages have come from Greek civilisation.
That is all we have managed to do with a Community which in the first instance was based on steel. Of course, Europe often comes in for criticism for all sorts of reasons, many of them contradictory.
· Leaving Europessimism, perhaps even Euromasochism, aside, we may not really know what makes us European, but people on the outside do, particularly the Africans. Which brings me to another question - how do you see the future of the film industry in the ACP Group, especially the African film industry?
- I think that Europe has to put up a fight to defend its film industry. The cinema is rather like the writing industry. A large number of great writers doesn't make for a large amount of profitability. We are very concerned with saving ourselves, but, at the same time, I am rather proud that our Federation has always been concerned about other film industries too, particularly the African ones.
And what about the green paper on audiovisual production? Well, we suggest reserving about 35% of the showings in all cinemas here in Europe for ourselves. Now we have sold culture to the Americans, why not sell the industry to our national governments?
We have done a lot of talking to cinema managers. In many cases they are businessmen, but they love films, they know what they are talking about and they relate to the audiences, and they all think that there is room for European films in their cinemas, for 20-30% of their audiences. So what we want is for all cinemas interested to be able to slot into a system where they get free credit to renovate their premises, just as they would in any other industry, in return for agreeing to screen a certain percentage of European films. And we should like some of this European reserved space of 30% or 35% earmarked for non-national films - which would mean getting various recognised film festivals to award a cinema access seal of approval to non-national European films.
We have no wish to cut out, say, independent American films. And the same goes for African and ACP films, for which we hope to see priority investments in production.