Europe wants action to save its film industry

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The Independent Online
THE THREE most popular films showing in Belgium this week, Philadelphia, Schindler's List and The Pelican Brief, are US productions. Yesterday, the European Commission demanded measures to promote Europe's audiovisual industry, warning that without action now there will be no European films showing by the year 2000.

In the last decade, European films have lost 50 per cent of the cinema market and two-thirds of the audience. Pay-stations on satellite and cable TV have exacerbated public preferences for US-produced films and this demand is reflected in the ever-growing video market, which feeds off cinema successes.

A wide-ranging discussion paper published by the Commission outlines the scale of the crisis but is less clear about the remedies. A demand that extra funds should be provided by a levy on cinema tickets, widely touted as a possible source of extra revenue, is mentioned only in passing, which should head off a potential conflict between the European Union and the United States.

The two have already come to blows over subsidies for the film industry in the context of last year's Gatt talks. The Commission's insistence in the discussion paper that quota systems must where practicable be applied to television production as laid down in 'television without frontiers' legislation, will rekindle old arguments. These will involve not only the US but free- market member states, such as Britain, which question the legality of such a ruling when applied to non- terrestial TV production .

An independent think-tankfrom the industry, including David Puttnam, asked by the Commission to contribute to the debate, came up with more concrete recommendations, including the creation of a fund offering low-interest loans to help establish pan-European distribution consortiums. The Commission is now inviting further comment at a series of meetings between now and the autumn to draw up an effective legislative programme by next year.

The audiovisual industry now employs 1.8 million and a study by the London School of Economics predicts that this could double by the end of the century and increase fourfold over the next 20 years.

The Commission is anxious not to be overtaken by the United States in the exploitation of multi-media networks and is grappling with the problem of where funding should be targeted. Should money be made available across the board, from production through distribution or concentrated on priority areas?

The chief complaint is that with 1,000 distribution companies for the 500 or so European films produced annually, the Union cannot possibly compete with the US distribution systems. American films now represent 85 per cent of everything shown on the continent: 'The single market only works for US films,' the discussion paper concludes.

With exports at an all time low, the creative and promotional talent is also attracted overseas: there are no European 'stars'. The (dubbed) film that launched Brigitte Bardot as an international sex symbol - Roger Vadim's Et Dieu Crea la Femme - took dollars 4m in the US in 1956 - despite an X rating. 'Such success would be unthinkable today,' the report suggests.