In search of the lost audience: Belgian cinema and its public
by Aurore Engelen
28/06/2011 - On Monday June 27, as a preview to the French Community’s soirée in Brussels, the Brussels Film Festivalorganised a conference on the challenges facing Belgian cinema, on the occasion of the publication of a new book by Frédéric Sojcher, Pratiques du Cinémas.
For many years, public institutions have been establishing an effective system of support for production, be it work carried out by the Film Selection Committee or the creation of Tax Shelters, which has released a significant amount of capital. In fact, it seems that a critical mass of production has been reached and that the question is now centered on the distribution and promotion of films. Teacher, theoretician and film-maker Frédéric Sojcher stressed (as he did in his editorial) that access to viewers is crucial these days. The panel, made up of representatives from institutions and professional associations supported his view.
Dan Cukier, former president of the Commission, stresses that despite its great diversity, Belgian film suffers prejudice by the general public. A war of images needs to be waged to make Belgians forget the monolithic vision they may have of their own cinema. But, as Luc Jambon explains, there is also a question of distribution, due to the lack of film theatres for art-house films. That is why the recent announcement of the possible closure of the Arenberg cinema, an unmissable arthouse venue, has brought concern. Frédéric Delcor, director of the CCA, explains that the challenge facing cinemas today is digitisation and that this is even thornier for arthouse cinemas, which risk being left behind if they do not rapidly switch to digital. But while this is now a matter of urgency, in the long run it will also be a fantastic opportunity, adaptable to a great variety of audiences. This very different Belgian cinema attracts audiences who are themselves very diverse, and new technologies facilitate access to niche audiences. Another important project, also noted by Frédéric Sojcher, is that of educating future generations about cinema – something the Department for Audiovisual and Multimedia for the French Community in Belgium is already engaged in, notably with the Price for School Students – but which still needs to be developed further.
Ultimately, the question of budget is linked to cultural identity. In this respect, francophone Belgium can obviously not rely on language, as many European countries do whose local film is well represented at the box-office. The overwhelming proximity of French cinema seems to stem the audiences’ desire to « see themselves » on screen. Besides, the general public sees Podium as a Belgian film because Benoît Poelvoorde is in it! Some contributors stress that Belgian cinema is missing Saturday night films (entertaining, good quality movies), which show the reality of Belgian viewers on the cinema screens. To sum up, there is a certain lack of efficiency and of representativeness. However, there is a rich corpus of films, and a greater visibilty of this collection would certainly help to attract more than one viewer. Two obstacles remain to be surmounted in this field – an overly timid approach to marketing tools to promote Belgian films, and the market’s concentration on a few key titles that alone can monopolise four or five screens in the big multiplexes.
(Translated from French)