Letter: Patronage: the screen kiss of death

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The Independent Online
Sir: There are two problems with Andrew Marr's analysis of the tribulations that confront French cinema (Comment, 15 October). The first is that all the economic arguments favour free trade. The UK, which, in contrast to France, has no meaningful protectionist barriers and a puny system of public support for indigenous film and television production, nevertheless has an audio-visual industry (cinema, video and television) 50 per cent bigger than France's, which accounts for 25 per cent of all audio-visual transactions in the EC.

Furthermore, British films, though few in number, continue to perform much better than other European films in the international markets, especially the United States, where The Crying Game recently took dollars 63m at the box office.

Second, popular culture, of which cinema and television are certainly a part, is wonderfully oblivious to official patronage. This is a difficult point to put across in France, where the deep entrenchment of paternalism is exemplified by Jack Lang's appointment a few years ago of a minister for rock 'n' roll. The French cosset their film-makers with subsidies and incentives, but the audience for French films in France continues to decline.

There is a view, expressed very eloquently by the film critic Derek Elley, that national cinemas become sick the minute they receive official encouragement. Such encouragement, of course, is always fundamentally inspired by ideology, which is a bad bedfellow for popular entertainment.

The success of American movies, which is so often put down merely to the size of America's home market, can be ascribed to Hollywood's aversion to art (and with it, ideology) and its enthusiasm for new ideas and talents, whatever their origin. There is a lesson there for Europe.

The French may be right to believe that, if the doors to trade are opened wide, their country will be swamped by American movies. But so what? British cinemas have been swamped by American movies for decades. Has our popular culture suffered as a result? Hardly. Take the most pertinent example: the drama output of British television compared with the film output of any European country, including France.

The French should worry less. Britain's audio-visual economy is booming and our popular culture is abundantly rich. It will stay that way only as long as the industry keeps the 'well-meaning' politicians and ideologues - the protectionists and subsidisers - outside the door.

Yours sincerely,

TERRY ILOTT

London, N4

15 October

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