Virginie Nouvelle • General Manager, Wallimage
“We need to demonstrate a certain degree of flexibility in order to meet the needs of our new partners, while continuing to work with independent producers”
- We met with the new General Manager of Wallimage Virginie Nouvelle
We sat down with Virginie Nouvelle, who took over from Philippe Reynaert on 1 December as the new General Manager of Wallimage, Wallonia’s regional investment fund of which Nouvelle was already the financial director, as well as the director of Wallimage Entreprises. She discusses the European positioning of the organisation and the major challenges awaiting her.
Cineuropa: What does Wallimage represent today within the Belgian and European audiovisual landscapes?
Virginie Nouvelle: Wallimage was created 20 years ago, investing €2.5 million in co-productions. Today it invests €6.5 million, which shows just how far the fund has come, especially in terms of animated works but also in the area of series, which are playing an increasingly significant role and are highly productive for the industry.
We have a rather traditional system for supporting co-production, but, when combined with the Belgian Tax Shelter, it allows producers to fund up to 60% of local expenditure. Obviously, we support majority-Belgian films, but we also help a lot of international co-productions.
We’ve also been operating a “film-shoot assistance” arm for two years now, which helps to ensure greater consistency between our services and funding arms, as well as enhancing the region’s appeal.
Our third arm, Wallimage Entreprises, is aimed at providing corporate finance in the form of equity investment and/or loans. And we’re the only ones in Europe offering the audiovisual sector dedicated investment services. In fact, we’re very keen for this subsidiary to extend its reach into the gaming sphere.
We have also received backing from the European Regional Development Fund, which will help us to shore up the industry more actively, by way of a guarantee mechanism.
The challenge today is to ensure our attractiveness, so that we can contend with the ever-greater role played by streaming platforms, and to examine how we can improve the way we do things so as to attract a maximum of co-productions and get our industry moving. We will need to demonstrate a certain degree of flexibility in order to meet the needs of our new partners, while continuing to work with our independent producers.
What are the greatest strengths of Wallonia’s audiovisual sector, and which are the areas you are looking to improve on?
In terms of our audiovisual expertise, we’ve reached a level of international repute. The proof of this is the fact that a number of our service providers, such as Benuts who specialise in VFX, are even hired for projects not funded by Wallonia.
But we need to be careful not to fall behind. Technological developments mean that we need to be ready and willing to take risks in our investments. It falls on us, alongside Wallimage Entreprises, to invest in a timely fashion to ensure we remain at the forefront. At the moment, for example, we’re helping businesses get up to speed on real-time animation, and on virtual studio techniques.
What approach is Wallimage taking to tackle the Covid crisis?
We’ve tried to respond as best we can to the industry’s needs, with the tools we have to hand. We were very quick to get in touch with producers to see what they needed, and we organised a dedicated production aid session at the beginning of July to help projects which we’d already pledged our support to, by obtaining additional funding to help them cover extra costs.
In terms of our service providers, we helped them in their submission of grant applications, and we reinvested in several companies.
Thankfully, in this second lockdown, the rules are a bit less rigid. Things have certainly slowed down, but we’ve been allowed to carry on filming. The real worry relates to distribution, and we’ll need to take a position on this matter, via Wallimage Entreprises.
What are the most pressing issues and greatest challenges, in your eyes?
The question we need to ask ourselves in the short and medium-term is: do our procedures help preserve our attractiveness to different types of productions, notably those funded almost entirely by platforms? Questions regarding our services and the competency of our service providers are especially crucial in this light. These types of reflections were already underway, but COVID really drove the situation home to us.
We need to remain effective on the European scene - it’s a major factor. If we don’t make co-productions, our industry will collapse; majority works aren’t enough to keep the wheels turning. But we also need to focus on the notion of creation. It’s something we’re currently thinking about. As an economic fund, we have a fairly standard financing model, we don’t intervene too far ahead. How, then, can we help independent producers develop majority projects? Finding the right balance to ensure the preservation of independent production whilst protecting our international attractiveness is a real challenge.
Which recent productions stand out amongst the projects the fund has supported?
There’s notably the Swedish project Atlantic Crossing, which involved over €2 million of special effects from Benuts, and saw us join forces with Scandinavia, a co-producing country which wasn’t an entirely natural fit for us. Successfully redirecting expenditure of this level to home shores, as is also the case with the French series OVNI(s), is something we’re really proud of.
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