FILM / The Americans are coming]: Gatt: Why are the French so upset about it? How does it affect us? Jasper Rees puts these and other questions to members of the British film industry

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The Independent Culture
In the end there's precious little difference between culture and agriculture. The French are getting equally steamed up over both, and it's hard to say which is more of a stumbling-block to the successful conclusion of the Gatt talks.

Alongside the bartering over oranges and lemons, both sides in the Gatt talks are this week chewing the fat over something called 'audio-visual', a hold-all term for films and television. Gatt proposes to liberalise trade between the United States and the European Union to such an extent that audio-visual can travel in any quantity without restrictions in both directions across the Atlantic.

This sounds fine and dandy in theory, but in reality the traffic is likely to be strictly one way. What the French, and other nations, are really worried about is that there will be considerably less appetite for French movies in France than for American ones. Without the ability to support itself, their industry will shrivel.

America, whose audio-visual product is the second most profitable export after aircraft, is preparing to tuck in. The French, who up until now have enthusiastically subsidised their own industry and argue that film is not merchandise, are getting into a ragout about it. The Italians, whose industry is rapidly going the way its most distinguished director has just gone, are getting into a stracotto. What about the British: can we be bothered to get into a stew?


We haven't got an indigenous film culture. I don't think we've ever had a government that has really cared much about British films or thought them of any importance. The Conservatives have always had the attitude that films were made purely for profit. Neither party seems to have cared at all about the death of the documentary movement and the Crown Film Unit in the last war and they have done little to support the making of documentaries. I can't see that any protection is going to make the British public any less favourable towards the American product, which they prefer. The public and the media, for the last 50 or 60 years, have been completely subordinated to Hollywood.

I certainly think that European cinema is important and it's of importance to the countries concerned that their film industries should survive. The big problem is that the Americans have had the financial resources to make film, and they have been particularly good at it. They're top- ranking professionals and their work is enjoyed by people, I'm afraid, all over Europe, including Britain. That's a pessimistic statement but I think one may as well be realistic about the situation.

Lindsay Anderson is the director of 'If' and 'This Sporting Life'


The subsidy system within the UK is nowhere near as high as in Europe, so the immediate impact here is less crucial. But there will be a knock-on effect: we're increasingly dependent on European money, and a proportion of that money comes through the subsidy systems that do exist.

Subsidy is important in the restricted areas of innovation and encouragement of new talent. I'm less happy about the principle of subsidy for the making of films. When you have subsidies you have committees, and you get a distortion of the market-place. Of course what one wants is not so much subsidies as fiscal measures that actually encourage investment by the private sector. I firmly believe we have a cultural specificity worth defending, and the films that are most commercially successful in America are films that contain that cultural specificity. They're not actually that interested when we produce films that they could make; what they're interested in are the films that they know they couldn't make, like The Crying Game or Orlando.

The other side of the coin is, if Gatt does go through, whether that would encourage Americans to put more money into European films. They'd do it only if they could see money at the end of the line.

David Aukin is Head of Drama at Channel 4


Our cottage industry almost isn't big enough to be affected by the Gatt talks. On the income side, our audiences demand to see Basic Instinct or Alien 3. Somehow they'll see it. Do they demand to see My Beautiful Laundrette? Not very often. There is an American imperialism within the film industry because they make entertaining pictures that everyone wants to see. We share the same language as them, and that's the difference between us and the French.

There's a rather interesting booklet from the BFI in which Hugh Hudson writes that what we should be doing is making international films from an English cultural base. Coming from him it's pretty rich but it's also pretty accurate.

The French will continue to make films in French, the Italians will continue to make films in Italian. I think that'll be preserved anyway. I'm afraid that to say that film is not merchandise is a French arty point of view. One of the biggest problems in terms of the Government's attitude to film in this country is that they don't see it as merchandise. It's massive merchandise, which is where the Americans have got it exactly right.

Tim Bevan is co-chairman of the independent production company, Working Title STEPHEN FREARS

I think the status quo will be maintained. It's very difficult for European film- makers. It's quite clear that the world is dominated by the rules that the Americans make, which means you have to be very quick on your feet as a European film-maker. But I look at the way Ken Loach and Mike Leigh have survived and gone on working: there are people who are both realistic and continue to make films that they believe in.

One of the advantages of living under a right-wing government is that we've learnt you don't ask for anything; they don't give you an inch. I absolutely support the protected television industry. What the audiences like are good domestic programmes: everybody wants a protected industry, except Mrs Thatcher. But with cinema I don't see how you can tell audiences what to like: that's life. There's no doubt that the answer is for us all to make better films, which is the part that individual people can address most.

The French industry has stayed alive in a way that others haven't: they like films. We subsidise television very happily, because we like television. It's the misfortune of the British to live in a country where films aren't valued.

Stephen Frears is the director of 'My Beautiful Landrette' and 'Dangerous Liaisons'


I don't think that any dictation concerning the arts is at all helpful, because you cannot force people to see films they don't want to see. Europe has always tended to make the education, artistic, 'message' films, and that is not what the public on the whole wants. For years in England we had not only subsidy but quota, where cinemas had to show a high quota of British films, and the British film industry diminished and diminished into practically nothing because you could not force people to pay money to see films they didn't want to see, and all the subsidy in the world wouldn't do that.

I would strongly object to protectionism. How can we say in one voice that we object to American Equity stopping our actors playing on Broadway when in the same voice we're trying to stop American films playing in our theatres?

I think Gatt is very unclear but if they have to remove those subsidies they'll have to compete on an open playing field, and why not? Everything is a threat to the French national culture. We've heard all this piffle before. I think the French should shut up and stop being such a bloody nuisance.

Michael Winner's latest film is 'Dirty Weekend'

(Photographs omitted)