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Brexit anxiety continues to percolate in Cannes

UK industry set to debate Brexit fallout at Cannes panel.

Almost one year on from the Brexit referendum, the uncertainty and anxiety surrounding the possible impact of the UK’s departure from EU on the European film industry shows no sign of lifting. 

There will be yet another panel here in Cannes (May 19 at the UK Film Centre, 11am-noon, chaired by Isabel Davis, head of international at BFI) mulling over the challenges Brexit poses to everything from freedom of movement to customs tariffs and whether other European countries might be able to wrest away some of the £1.6bn spent on film production in the UK last year.

The UK production sector has benefitted hugely in inward investment terms from the weakness of the British currency post-referendum - but the impact on UK distributors looking to acquire foreign films has been far less positive as they’ve seen their buying power shrink.

For Chris Curling, a UK producer who works extensively with European partners, the key issue for British producers is that the UK continues to be able to use the Council Of Europe Convention on Cinematographic Coproduction. Given that non-EU countries including Russia and Turkey are part of the Convention, Curling anticipates that the UK’s continuing involvement should not be an issue. 

However, if the UK withdraws from the Council of Europe as well as from the EU, Eurimages director Roberto Olla anticipates there could be problems for British producers wanting to use the Convention. “It would require unanimity from all the other countries about the UK joining the Convention,” Olla explained.

Another key question is whether the UK will stay in the EU’s Media Programme.

“We need to remain a participant in the EU’s Creative Europe programme so that, among other things, UK distributors can continue to benefit from much-need support in supplying audiences with a consistent flow of European films – or if continuing membership of Creative Europe no longer proves possible, then whoever forms the next UK Government needs to step up to the plate to avoid a serious reduction in audience choice,” Lord Puttnam commented last month in his keynote speech for the UK’s Film Distributors’ Association.

There is growing clamour in certain quarters for the UK to rejoin Eurimages (the Council of Europe fund for the co-production, distribution and exhibition of European cinematographic works, which the UK left in the mid 1990s. The question is where the money to pay for membership would come from. 

“With Brexit looming, that MEDIA budget is going to disappear unless something very unusual happens and there is a very soft Brexit,” notes veteran producer Simon Perry, former boss of British Screen and of the Irish Film Board. “It would mean that the argument could be relaunched that Eurimages could have its own [financing] line. It wouldn’t have to come out of the BFI. It could come out of what at the moment goes to MEDIA.”

At present, it would be very easy for the UK to rejoin Eurimages. “The door is wide open,” Olla says, while cautioning that if the UK leaves the Council of Europe, the procedure would become much more complicated.

A recent proposal by UK producers’ body PACT for the UK tax credit to be raised to 40% for films in the £2m-£10m budget range would be more easily achieved if the UK is outside the EU, and therefore not subject to EU state aid laws.

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