Industry Report: Directors Talk II, Berlinale World Cinema Fund Day
The Mediterranean Countries (2007), summary of the Euromed Audiovisual conference, Berlin 2007
by Frédéric Violeau
- The first conference of the three-year programme Euromed Audiovisual was held on February 10th and 11th during Berlinale 2007. After two-days of intense debate over strategies for the promotion of Euro-Mediterranean cinema, structural and political problems, financial difficulties, and audience education remained issues requiring future improvement.
Analysing all audiovisual aspects, from training to promotion, a brief overview of the various audiovisual factors involved in this project, whose means are limited and continuation still to be defined, could be outlined.
Nabil Ayouch, Moroccan director of the excellent film Ali Zaoua and founder of the MEDA Film Development programme, brought up a truth that goes beyond the Mediterranean costs: the importance of development. Based on those supported by MEDIA (such as EAVE or ACE), Euromed training programmes allow working professionals to improve their skills by learning more from experts. This working method was tested in Europe and young producers and directors from the Southern Mediterranean countries know how to benefit from it, including Lebanon’s Pierre Sarraf and Nadim Tabet.
Production is the more evident reflection of the disparity between the Southern Mediterranean countries. Many countries present a considerable national production that guarantees a consequent local share market: in 2006, Morocco produced 16 films and 28 national films were distributed, achieving a share market of 18.2%; in the same year Egypt produced 39 films and the 35 distributed ones took in 80% of overall revenue; in 2005, Israel produced 17 films and 14 were distributed (9% of the market); lastly, Turkey produced 50 films in 2006, and the 34 that were national were distributed through a large cinema circuit for a slice of the market that would outclass other European countries: 51.83%.
Structural and political problems of some other countries constitute a restraint to domestic cinema development. Syria still follows a method inherited from the Soviet days, while in Algeria the greater part of theatres started to fall apart after state funding was cut out in the late 1980s, Lebanon has trouble finding new inspiration after the pre-war splendour, the Palestinian Authority is too young and has some more serious issues to confront before dealing with cinema, and Tunisia is kept under such state control that its artists are not able to free their creativity.
Moreover, like Jordan, Tunisia has focused its efforts especially on hosting foreign shootings and in this way took part in a world competition.
In spite of an omnipresent political power in this area, crossed declarations of Nour-Eddine Saïl, director of the Moroccan Cinema Center (CCM), and of Katriel Schory, director of the Israel Film Fund, won the audience. While answering the questions of Tunisia and Syria about their need for a National Film Centre to help infuse new life in a cinema that at present seems to be dying, they both recalled the first thing they did when they took over: visit the French CNC, a sort of international model together with the South Korean example. Thus, they insisted on the importance of a total independent audiovisual administrative organization, given the freedom to make its own decisions. However, it is doubtful that many Mediterranean countries already have the proper conditions for developing such a model.
Money is the heart of all film professionals’ worries, in particular of those coming from financially weak countries as good intentions do not always turn out to be effective. Asking the European Union for a fund for Southern Mediterranean countries film production is certainly a good action, since the Euromed Audiovisuel II programme (as well as the MEDIA Programme) operates in all fields except for production. Yet allocating a fund from the European Commission to these countries would be damaging to European professionals and undermine its force.
Beyond feasibility, there is a paradox as some Southern professionals, while asking northern countries for financial backing, report a sort of neo-colonialism that does not sound entirely unfounded considering some funding conditions. The World Cinema Fund conference, whose debates will be soon available on cineuropa.org, gave professionals from southern countries leave to speak in order to answer a question that many Europeans should ask themselves more often: Do we really do what is necessary?
Of course means are insufficient, but they always will be. After two days of intense debate, there might be a risk of forgetting that cinema is about stories told by directors, whose vision of the world should be able to be communicated to audiences. Considering the state of the majority of theatres in some countries, this battle might seem to the more pessimistic as already lost and euro-Mediterranean film promotion, like audience education, too often looks like a Sisyphean task. Yet the incredible energy of two Algerians, director Teri Tequila (who filmed Roma Rather Than You with a budget of about €200,000) and distributor Mohammed Latrèche, reminded us that what counts is primarily to take action, to shoot films and to show them to the public, no matter what the cost. After all, didn't Albert Camus write that "one must imagine Sisyphus happy"?
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