Screen editor Matt Mueller on the big questions hanging over the future of European independent film.
Anyone who works on the front line of sales, production, distribution and arthouse exhibition in European independent film is asking themselves the same questions these days: what will the landscape for these films look like in 10 years’ time?
Will it be robust and dynamic, still a fertile wellspring reflecting Europe’s identity and cultural diversity, with improved options for reaching audiences working alongside smart exhibitors and powerful VoD platforms?
Or will it be gasping for breath in a new order dominated by US streaming giants whose inexorable rise was aided and abetted by European Union legislation geared towards safeguarding consumer choice rather than Europe’s film-making community?
The reality will most likely fall somewhere between the two. The ideal scenario would see a best-of-both-sides compromise hammered out in the coming years between the European Commission and its drive towards addressing what it views as unfair restrictions on cross-border access to content, and a vociferous industry whose own potency is predicated on the pillars of territoriality and geo-blocking.
Ever since the digital single market (DSM) was first announced, the reaction from the majority of European producers, sales agents and distributors has been one of dismayed panic.
But it’s also true that much of the distrust of the DSM proposals can be blamed on some very clumsy messaging by the EC at the start, and that given a chance to explain itself, some of the proposals don’t sound all that outrageous.
Even the most die-hard opponent would surely agree that some of the restrictions placed on content consumption in today’s connected world are a tad archaic, and that the notion of portability (allowing consumers cross-border access to content they have acquired legally) is actually a smart and pragmatic move.
Of course the doom-and-gloom scenario that was first predicted if the DSM were to be introduced in a no-holds-barred fashion - the complete eradication of territoriality and ensuing decimation of the European film landscape - would benefit no-one apart from the very few companies (most of them likely to be US) able to wield pan-European licensing power.
But the rhetoric has softened and even staunch advocates for the status quo admit a consolidation of Europe’s piecemeal distribution network might not be the worst thing to happen.
Nothing will be answered soon, and the EC has promised a flurry of further investigations and consultations before any hefty decisions are taken.
But with the question looming large in industry minds, it seemed a perfect time for Screen International to sift through the arguments on both sides, as Geoffrey Macnab has done in his insightful and balanced feature.
He also speaks to Andrus Ansip, the EC vice-president in charge of the DSM drive, who agreed to sit down and answer a few of our questions.
The former Estonian prime minister will take part in a fireside chat at the European Film Forum Tallinn during Black Nights Film Festival (Nov 13-29), the first time he has agreed to sit before the European film industry and present his case for change.
I am honoured the European Film Forum has asked me to moderate the session, and I look forward to speaking to vice-president Ansip on November 18 in Tallinn, and hearing questions from the industry audience.
According to those close to him, Ansip is an avid movie-goer who deeply values cinema’s role as a key contributor to European identity, and his ambition is to push for policies that improve the circulation of European audiovisual works as well as benefit consumers and the European economy.
Screen International is not entirely Europe-focused this issue (and a DSM would have global ramifications).
Also in this month’s issue, our Asia editor Liz Shackleton delivers a revealing report on the growing difficulties faced by non-major foreign releases in China.
And our US editor Jeremy Kay offers an in-depth AFM preview in which he examines the burgeoning role for companies such as Netflix and Amazon in the marketplace, and the dilemma that seems to vex buyers every year: the lack of available product heading into AFM, as packages increasingly come together very late in the day.
Screen International will be in Santa Monica as ever with our annual market dailies. We look forward to seeing you there.
Matt Mueller is editor of Screen International