Some vocal British producers hope that the UK could re-join Eurimages, at a time when the organisation is booming with the new addition of Russia.

As Eurimages expands, the calls for the UK to re-join are growing louder.

The UK is the only major western European country that is not part of Eurimages — the Council of Europe co-production and distribution fund — and therefore cannot access its $34m (€24m) budget.

Roberto Olla, executive director of the Strasbourg-based Eurimages, reveals that he was approached by several British producers and industry figures during the recent Berlinale, asking if and how the UK could again board the organisation.

“There is a huge interest,” Olla says of the renewed British enthusiasm for Eurimages.

In a speech last autumn, senior producer Jeremy Thomas stated that Britain “needs” Eurimages. At a period when the UK is less desirable as a co-production partner, many argue that rejoining Eurimages would help the British connect with potential European partners.

Olla makes it very clear that “there is nothing Eurimages can do” for British producers unless they can persuade the national authorities to intervene on their behalf. However, rejoining Eurimages clearly isn’t a priority at the UK’s Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS). 

Contacted by Screen, a DCMS spokesperson stated that, through industry body Film London (now responsible for inward investment) and the forthcoming Film Policy Review, the UK Government will explore “the possible benefits of rejoining Eurimages.” This statement is significant - it at least underlines that rejoining Eurimages is back on the agenda. But there are no hints about when anything might happen.

The UK joined Eurimages in 1992 but withdrew four years later. There was a perception then among the British that too much horse trading and politicking went on at Eurimages and that its decision-making processes weren’t always transparent. Moreover, the emphasis at Eurimages has always been on “quality arthouse films” – not necessarily the type of movies that the British were most interested in making.

During the heady days of Section 48 tax-based financing, Britain didn’t need Eurimages — it was easy enough for the UK to coproduce without it. That has changed. “If you look at the curve of co-productions made by the UK in the last years, you can see that it has dropped dramatically,” Olla notes. “On the one hand, it (the UK) is an important market. On the other hand, from the co-production point of view, it is not. The Brits only make their own films or they co-finance with Americans. The Americans keep the rights and the Brits can work on their projects.”

Whatever happens with the UK, Eurimages is continuing to expand. Amid the ongoing debate about the future of the EU’s Media Programme and at a time when national film agencies throughout Europe are feeling the squeeze, Eurimages is still bringing on board new members.

In March, Russia finally joined the organisation, becoming its 35th member state. “We are thrilled,” Olla says of their joining. “Russia is a huge country both from a cinematographic point of view but also it is a big, big market. Joining the Eurimages club means that it (Russia) will adapt to the method of co-producing and making films together that circulate within Europe”

Now, Georgia is poised to join and Montenegro is also in talks.

It remains to be seen what impact the crisis in the Hungarian film industry or the economic problems facing several other European countries will have on their particpation in Eurimages. As Olla puts it: “clearly, if a country develops less money to its arthouse/quality/edgy/national films, it will have an effect in the longer run.”

With Russia’s arrival, the Eurimages budget has risen by around $2.2m (€1.5m) for 2011. Producers can ask for up to $1m (€700,000) per project. On average, they’ll receive between $450,000-$570,000 (€315,000-€400,000). “Eurimages is not easy money because there is huge competition but it is good money because you can spend it where you want,” says Olla. Producers using Eurimages don’t have to jump through the same hoops as when they are dealing with tax shelters and regional funds.

Several Eurimages-backed movies are tipped for selection in Cannes, among them Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia, Nanni Moretti’s We Have A Pope [pictured] and Paolo Sorrentino’s This Must Be The Place. Meanwhile, Bela Tarr’s The Turin Horse won a Silver Bear in Berlin. Last year, Semih Kaplanoglu’s Turkish drama Honey (supported by Eurimages) won the Golden Bear. Michael Haneke’s Palme D’Or winner The White Ribbon was also backed by Eurimages.

Olla insists that Eurimages’ decision-making has become more transparent and efficient since the organisation was founded in 1989. Two years ago, Holland and Italy threatened to quit Eurimages after a row about subscription rates. They complained then that they paid more in subscriptions than they received in support for their films. Olla says that their concerns have now been met by a tweaking of how subscription rates are calculated — These are based on GDP and population but are now counterbalanced by an assessment of the number of projects from a country supported by Eurimages.

“The whole functioning of the Fund has evolved,” the Eurimages head states. “At the beginning, it was a very bureaucratic and geo-political system. The club was smaller. It was essentially richer countries and all the projects could be easily funded.”

Now, Olla points out, Eurimages’ footprint is across “greater Europe,” not just the EU. The money available is proportionally less per country, and there is fierce competition for it. “Slowly but surely, Eurimages has changed from a bureaucratic system into a quality oriented funding system.”

Olla believes that Eurimages and the EU’s Media Programme are complementary organisations. Eurimages was created in 1989, two years before The Media Programme. The organisation’s budget is voted annually, compared to the Media budget voted every five or seven years. He suggests that merging Eurimages and The Media Programme (an idea that has been floated in the past) would be “completely nonsense.” 

“I don’t think we should be calculating only the direct effect that funding from the Media Programme has on the market,” he says. “We should also calculate the indirect effect that this has – this sense of community and working together. If you look back 20 years ago, people were not working together the way we’re doing now…this public funding from the European Union and the Council of Europe is the carrot. People get together and work together. That creates links. It creates a common cinematographic language. That is the idea of integration – creating a real European film community.”