When the year began it still seemed that Europe, cinema's ancestral home, was pulling its historical weight again. Jean Marie-Messier was at the helm of Franco-American entertainment conglomerate Vivendi-Universal, Germany's Neuer Markt listed companies were still in the game, and UK mini-studio FilmFour was mounting star-studded productions aimed at the international market.
With the end of 2002 now fast approaching, it has become clear that European cinema still cannot stand on its own. The collapse of Vivendi and Kirch, the implosion of the Neuer Markt and the closure of FilmFour proved that European dreams of building studio empires on local soil were as frail as Polygram's.
In fact, perhaps the most telling example of Europe's struggle for film equality can be summed up by former Polygram boss Stewart Till's attempt to launch European-based production, sales and distribution powerhouse Signpost. He ended the year joining international studio distributor UIP as its new chief executive.
The polarity of the business has swung back again to Hollywood - albeit with a heavily foreign, or rather multinational, accent.
Internationally-flavoured films such as Potter, Rings, Bond and About A Boy rode atop the worldwide box office, while remakes such as The Ring and Insomnia sought inspiration from Japan and Scandinavia respectively. The film business centre of gravity can be pinpointed geographically in California, but it's production line assembly process is every bit the industrial melting pot that car-making is in today's global economy.
Dubbed "Globowood" by Newsweek earlier this year, this fusion between Hollywood manufacturing and marketing muscle and overseas cultural and financial components has seen all manner of collaborations, not all of them in the English-language.
As the man in charge of the overseas release slates for Paramount, Universal and DreamWorks, Till now gets to handle some of the most impressive films to come out of Europe, including those from Working Title and all those studio films that are taking advantage of Europe's tax shelters and cost efficient locations.
The cinema business, once locked into national financing paradigms, is having to become borderless even for the most local and parochial of film stories.
Of course, Globowood's emergence was just one of trends to become apparent in 2002. Here are ten others to chew over during the festive season.
Attack Of The Clones
For many it was the year that Hollywood ran out of original ideas, with producers and studios turning increasingly to tried and tested, pre-existing material to deliver audiences. Endless book adaptations (Potter, Lord Of The Rings, About A Boy), Asian remakes (The Ring), Spanish remakes (Vanilla Sky), Scandinavian remakes (Insomnia), comic book films (Spider-Man) and TV spin-offs (Scooby-Doo) did bumper business at the box office. It says something about the derivative nature of studio screen development right now that the most original screenplay on release is in an adaptation - in fact it is Adaptation. A dizzying array of sequels and franchise film-making (Potter, LOTR, Men In Black II, Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones, Stuart Little II, Bond: Die Another Day, The Santa Clause 2, Analyse That, Austin Powers In Goldmember) also did little to help rebut accusations that creativity had taken a back seat in Hollywood. The films seemed to keep audiences and exhibitors happy though, helping make 2002 a record year at the box office (again). Yet this barrage of derivative film-making came at the expense of many independent films, which struggled to secure screen berths - particularly in the face of the Potter, Bond and Rings winter onslaught.
Back in May, Cannes presciently set the tone for a new love affair between cinemagoers and the documentary. For the first time in 46 years a doc - Michael Moore's Bowling For Columbine - screened in official competition, while two others - Rosanna Arquette's Searching For Debra Winger and Robert Evans tale The Kid Stays In The Picture - were granted Special Screenings. Columbine's gun theme clearly touched a nerve and had a robust international roll out - its $250,000 UK opening in November was the biggest ever for a documentary. In France, Etre Et Avoir - a bucolic film about a French primary school teacher - became one of the most successful French documentaries of all time. The Scandinavians also raved about docs: after the success of choir film Cool And Crazy in 2001, a string of docs including All About My Father made box office headway in Norway. Zentropa, meanwhile, unleashed its new Dogumentary production label in Denmark. For the film industry, however, two docs proved essential viewing: first, The Kid Stays In The Picture, for its study of the charmed rise and humiliating fall of legendary Parmount exec Robert Evans; and second Lost In La Mancha, a fraught doc about the Terry Gilliam's abortive attempt to bring Don Quixote to the screen. Both made you wonder question the sanity of those working in film.
My Kingdom For A Horse
The industry became hell-bent in 2002 on mega budget period epics, particularly anything in a saddle. Much of the past year was spent polishing scripts and lining up stars for a string of Gladiator inspired, sword and sandle features: Brad Pitt is working out to play Achilles in Warner Bros-Village Roadshow's Troy, two versions of Alexander The Great are in the works with Leonardo DiCaprio attached to one and Colin Farrell to the other; Vin Diesel is tipped to play Hannibal for Sony based Revolution Studios; while Michael Mann is looking to direct George Clooney in Spartan tale Gates Of Fire for Universal. In fact, 2002 in general has seen film-makers plunder history for inspiration: Anthony Mingella's American Civil War drama Cold Mountain, Natural Nylon's English Civil War film Cromwell & Fairfax; and Napoleonic war epic Master And Commander are just three in the works. What's truly boggling about all this big budget historical activity is that they offer scant opportunities for profitable sequels and merchandising opportunities - unless sandal manufacturers get in on the act.
Death of the Salesmen
It's not been the best year for the international sales business. If increased studio competition and consolidation amongst key suppliers weren't enough for international sales outfits to contend with, the meltdown of key markets such as Germany, Spain and Italy put a huge spanner in the works. So difficult was it to sell into a number of territories, that some even talked of the death of the international sales model as we know it. Certainly, the gravity of the business has gradually swung away from its traditional London base, where it is now represented by a slender few companies - Capitol, Pathe and The Works - to LA where the heavyweights like New Line, Summit, Lakeshore, Intermedia, Splendid, MDP, Franchise and Myriad are all based. One of the few bright spots in the business has been the performance of the Lord Of The Rings trilogy, which has made a number of indie distributors throughout the world very rich. That's not to say, though, that they were opening their wallets indiscriminately to buy product over the past year.
The aftershocks of September 11 and geo-political unrest kept reverberating throughout the year - with some unforeseen results. Films like The Quiet American that were put on the backburner because of political sensitivities were re-discovered, winning critical and commercial kudos. The one film that confronted America head on, Bowling For Columbine, struck gold at the box office. Others are still struggling to see the light of day in the US - but have found takers abroad. International buyers including the UK's Artificial Eye and Germany's Movienet picked up September 11 portmanteau film 11 09 01, which was savaged in the US for its critical take on its overseas policy. In Italy, distributor CDI made good money with Myriad Pictures' People I Know, a highly regarded political thriller that painted a dark picture of a New York run by corrupt political cabals and an unnamed right wing mayor. Yet one film is still really struggling in the post September 11 climate: Toronto 2001 favourite Buffalo Soldiers. A tale of GI debauchery in a German army base, the FilmFour project put in a limp performance at the German box office and is still awaiting a US or a UK release
My Big Fat Indie Delusion
If the makers of My Big Fat Greek Wedding were really smart, they would turn off the spending tap right now, forget all talk of a sequel and spend an island honeymoon counting up their good fortune. The brutal truth is that the odds of ever repeating such a shot-in-the-dark indie success are about as remote as a good Blair Witch follow-up. Beautiful as the Wedding was, the audience's love affair with truly independent, small-scale films is on the rocks. Sure, specialised films still win awards and niche audiences, but the majority of these smaller films now come through Hollywood studio satellites, in the same way that the big record companies now cater to every musical fringe. Every territory can now count the number of healthy indies on one hand, and most of those have Frodo to thank for their big brass ring. If life outside the system were that good why else would the savvy team behind Crouching Tiger have opted to join Universal Pictures'
Pay-TV's own goal
Film executives should not, all things considered, be ardent football fans. For some time now European broadcasters have been ploughing cash into the beautiful game, buying up rights, clubs and even competitions - with disastrous financial consequences for the film industry. 2002, however, was the year it all went belly-up. Buckling under the cost of its football contracts Germany's Kirch finally tottered into messy insolvency, although its Premiere subsidiary just avoided relegation. ITV Digital, Britain's world-leading experiment in digital terrestrial television, collapsed having spent an estimated $1.1bn (£750m) in two years - much of it on football rights. The cost of football rights was a major factor preventing rival satellite broadcasters in both Italy and Spain from making any money, forcing them into merger agreements. In short, all this meant that European broadcasters had precious little money to spend on films. No wonder that in interventionist France the government has stepped in to ensure that future auctions for football rights do not mean Canal Plus and TPS will default on their obligations to cinema.
Red Light district
One of the most horrific images of the year was the sight of Terry Gilliam's Don Quixote film set being washed away in a freak Spanish flash flood, as recorded in documentary Lost In La Mancha. Unfortunately, Gilliam's agony was one shared by numerous other European directors and producers who saw their beloved projects hit the rocks. Particularly prone to failure were those ambitious pictures with budgets above the Euro norm, but below studio level. Pictures that fell apart included Neil Jordan's $50m Borgia, Walter Salles' Assumption Of The Virgin, Good Omens by Terry Gilliam (again) and Damien O'Donnell's $20m Edgardo Mortara. The causes have been various - sales company Myriad was unable to keep Borgia together, finance for Mortara appears not to have materialised from Germany's Senator's and Pascal Thomas' Le Grand Appartement last month stopped mid shoot when its broadcast partner pulled out. Still, unlike Gilliam's horsemen, some pictures have been able to remount. Mike Barker's To Kill A King was rescued mid-production by Jeremy Thomas and Pathe has become the latest home for Girl With A Pearl Earring, after it was able to access a fund from tax financier Ingenious.
The last of the Moguls'
Once upon a time, media tycoons used to look invincible - they were far-sighted and ruthless, and their empires (evil or not) were world spanning. After a punishing year, there now looks something very ancien regime about the world's media empires. Vivendi Universal's experiment in trans-Atlantic, multi-media synergy, is being taken apart by a former chemist who now describes the company as a "bank". Analysts now rate the combined AOL Time Warner as less valuable than Time Warner was prior to the $130bn merger of two years ago. Even before the disastrous launch of Treasure Island, Disney's credit ratings and management were being taken apart by investors. And Bertelsmann has been forced into retreat after over-paying for TV assets. What is more, the most successful moguls - Rupert Murdoch at News Corp and Sumner Redstone at Viacom - are well past retirement age.
The courtroom, rather than the box office or the video store, became the most important arena for deciding the future of the film industry. In the red corner were the studios, employing armies of lawyers to back up stringent copyright laws which they claim are being increasingly flouted in this new era of DVD burners. In the blue corner are consumer advocates, who suggest that digital copyright laws are just a smokescreen for keeping prices high. Why, they ask, is a DVD priced higher than a VHS when DVD is cheaper to duplicate' And why does an on-demand movie cost the same as a physical one hired from a store' These bugbears, they argue, are the kind of approaches that encourage pirates. Some observers even suggest that studios should peg the cost of legitimate copies to those of the pirates, pointing out that audiences are willing to pay over and over again for good content. Somehow one suspects that rather than do that, tens of millions will be burned through chasing elusive and technology savvy bandits through the courts.