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Michel Reilhac • Director of Arte France Cinéma

"Film must use all technological means available"

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Michel Reilhac • Director of Arte France Cinéma

Following his previous position as director of the Forum des Images, Michel Reilhac took over as head of Arte France Cinéma in 2002. A key personality in the French audiovisual and filmmaking landscape, his book of interviews with Frédéric Sojcher, Arte et le Cinéma : Le désir d’autre chose (lit. Arte and Cinema: The desire for something else) has recently been published by French editor Séguier.

In your book, you write that television has developed its own audiovisual grammar to become a potent drug. When did television’s divorce from cinema take place?
Michel Reilhac: The change came about in the 90s, I think, when television advertising revenue soared. Television programmes have become, according to their level of impact on audiences, a means for selling advertising space. Only three or four years ago, cinema drew the highest audience ratings in France, now it’s TV films and reality shows. The falloff in interest from broadcasters in cinema can be seen in the progressive removal of cinema from prime time slots – the most expensive and sought-after by advertisers. As a result, television has developed its own grammar with basic and very fragmented language to keep the audience glued to advertising on the screen. I think many people switch on the television without even watching it and have an indifferent relationship with the television flow. On the contrary, when you decide to watch a film, be it one recorded on television, DVD or Video on Demand, you make a deal in agreeing to watch a film for a certain length of time. As a result, the difference between the time of a film on television and on cinema increases.

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Means of diffusion no longer pose a problem for cinema then?
No, they don’t. Godard once said that television is to look down, and cinema is to look up. This is no longer true. The relationship we have with a film is no longer on the big screen. Today, auteur films don’t get a chance to exist for an audience who doesn’t even know they exist, because cinema doesn’t have the financial means to take on the big money-making machines. Now is the time to grab the opportunity represented by the numerous different formats on which cinema is accessible in an attempt to create, so to speak, all the possible market niches for film lovers.

ARTE produces about 25 auteur films per year. You are frequently criticised for the choices you make.
With the large number of films presented to us, we try to choose those from young filmmakers and to help experienced filmmakers who need us because other broadcasters no longer support them. We also try to represent a broad range of genres and a geographical diversity, with half of the films produced by us being French and the other half, international. The criticism we get is a reflection, from my point of view, of nostalgia for a period where everything was easier for these films. We are currently producing L'Homme de Londres (lit. The Man from London - see news) against all odds, the upcoming film by Béla Tarr, a very talented director and one of this century’s most important, I think. It’s crazy: trying to survive in cinema production is near to impossible nowadays! Getting one’s films distributed, bought and exhibited is far from easy. Encouraging the circulation of films on a European scale is of crucial importance to us: we not only want to defend cinema as a form of artistic expression where each time a film is unique, but also defend the idea that it is the privileged vehicle for the imagination of a people and a culture.

See the filmed interview at the website of Cinergie.

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