US rules Europe'sscreens

Film-makers who face extinction makers face

BERNARDO Bertolucci was disgruntled - not to say disgusted - when he appeared in the foyer of his Brussels hotel. He is, after all, a member of an endangered species: a European film director without a role.

There are two problems facing the European film industry, according to the Bertolucci analaysis. The first is the failure by European governments to protect their own culture - as reflected in their failure to protect their film industries.

The second problem, he says, gritting his teeth in a pained grin, is the addiction to American "sheet".

"I can't tell you why people eat cheeseburgers instead of spaghetti. But it's not because they choose to. They are just addicted. They don't really chose this sheet," he says.

"We have been invaded by the illusion of the American dream. It is commercialism. You know Italians know more about American wallpaper than Italian wallpaper? They know more about American clothes than Italian clothes.

"It all started with Dynasty and Dallas. That is how the addiction began. Now it has become a kind of cultural genocide. It is smothering the world."

That Mr Bertolucci should be lashing out over his morning coffee seemed a little over the top - but was not altogether surprising. He had come to Brussels, along with other disgusted director dinosaurs to lobby on behalf of the European film and TV industry, which believes it is facing extinction.

And with the death of European film and TV, comes the death - so they say - of European culture as we know it. The argument goes that TV and film sell a way of life. So when they watch American films Europeans are buying into the USA.

To Hollywood the complaints of the European directors are just "envy" - because Hollywood does it better.

The British product sells in the US today as long as it is about those comical British people (Benny Hill - Four Weddings and a Funeral) or as long as it is "kind of historic" - as one American put it. But all the French can do nowadays is make those intense little French films which only appeal to the French.

"We don't force people to watch our films. People like them. The fact is that European films don't travel well," says Michael Bartholomew, lobbyist for the Motion Picture Association of America.

As Bartholomew points out, not only do European films not travel well across the Atlantic (with notable exceptions), they don't even travel much within Europe. The only universal film culture that circulates freely in free-market Europe is American.

It is no exaggeration to say that a sense of panic is gripping European film makers. That panic has been evident in Brussels this week where US multi-media giants have been gathering at a conference on the so-called "information super-highway" to promote a new wave of American media wares to pour down the throats of ravenous European customers.

For over a decade the Europeans have sat by as Hollywood domination has grown. The figures speak for themselves. In the past 15 years the number of US-made films in European cinemas has grown from 35 per cent to 80 per cent while today European films account for only one per cent of the US market.

The US controls European film distribution networks. It controls most satellite and cable TV companies broadcasting to Europe. And it is now ready to dominate the rapidly expanding media market in new tele-visual products.

The profits from one sector feed into the next, killing off competition. Hollywood has targetted a market, won over an audience and penetration has been achieved with Europeans tied hand and foot.

For any new TV channel, it is 10 times cheaper to buy an American product than a European one, because the US dealer has already covered his costs by distributing the programme on the American market before being re-distributed in Europe.

This commercial advantage is almost unique to media products which can be re-sold over and over again.

At the same time Hollywood has been fiercely promoted by successive US governments - film is the second biggest US export after aeronautics - while European governments have treated culture as an optional extra in policy terms.

For these reasons - and many others - most European film directors support the French idea of tough European TV quotas as well as financial support to protect their industry.

European governments, however, largely distrust quotas, saying the "free- market" must prevail.

"When they talk of the free market, they mean putting a free fox in a free chicken hutch," said Denys Granier Deferre, the French film director in Brussels this week.

European directors know, however, that they too are to blame. And they know that if they are to win back their audiences they must make films which compete.

"Easy to watch - easy to forget. That is the American film," is how Mr Granier Deferre, summed up the competition. "As life has become more and more difficult people don't want anything serious, anything intense. Hollywood gives distraction, escapism."

Other directors spoke of the difficulty of competing with Hollywood's "factory packaging". Nowadays American movies are ready-made for the TV viewer as their "cuts" are short to prevent the habitual channel-flicker getting bored in front of the larger screen.

The Americans build scripts like building blocks, said Pennant Roberts, the British producer. "They always have a climax at a certain point. They spot a mood and they exploit it. Now it is all about feel-good, so all American movies are feel-good movies."

Bertolucci says that the Europeans must develop a European voice and then they must fight back by "re-invading" America.

"We have to show them there are other cultures apart from theirs."

The dynosaurs of Pinewood, Billancourt and Cinecitta know that their fight-back is probably too little too late.

Their only other hope is that Europeans will eventually get bored - and, then, perhaps, they may simply switch off the "sheet".

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap
videoThe political parody genius duo strike again with new video
Sport
Seth Rollins cashes in his Money in the Bank contract to win the WWE World Heavyweight Championship
WWERollins wins the WWE World Heavyweight title in one of the greatest WrestleMania's ever seen
News
news
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
tvPoldark, TV review
News
(David Sandison)
newsHow living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Planner

£35000 - £38000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen withi...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£13676.46 - £15864.28 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Re...

Recruitment Genius: Existing Customer Telephone Consultants

£13000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Every day they get another 1000...

Recruitment Genius: Contract Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This leading provider of refrigeration, mechan...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor