The details of how a global film cooperation programme might work have become clearer following a recent public hearing on the international film industry in Brussels.
The hearing is the latest step in a series of public consultations and studies that will help define the new MEDIA MUNDUS programme and offered some insights into the European Commission's plans to strengthen commercial and cultural relations between Europe's film industry and filmmakers elsewhere in the world.
It is now clear that the focus of MEDIA MUNDUS will be on audiovisual professionals themselves, encouraging them to cooperate on international projects for mutual benefit. The three frontrunners for possible areas of cooperation are training, networks and distribution and promotion.
These three areas already form the key elements of the preparatory programme for MEDIA MUNDUS - MEDIA International. Recent submissions for the first round of funding on MEDIA International have shown a strong industry interest in international training projects, with 24 of the 33 applications focusing on this area.
One of the main challenges for the programme will be to find an approach that reconciles the two overarching aims of the initiative - improving competitiveness and promoting cultural diversity.
Claude-Eric Poiroux is the General Director of Europa Cinemas, which promotes diversity in European programming, is convinced that cultural and commercial can sit side by side in the new programme.
'This is not about conquering new markets. This is about Europe engaging with the rest of the world,' says Poiroux. 'These questions are not reserved for Europe. You only need to look at what happens at Cannes, Berlin and Toronto to see how professionals need a means of interacting and cooperating. And yes on distribution, there is a natural protectionist reflex - we have enough trouble distributing our own films, why look to distribute others' But real diversity is contagious. Opening up to the rest of the world will be an important additional dynamic to European diversity.'
While the focus appears to be on training, networks and distribution, other areas of cooperation are still technically on the table for discussion at this stage in the process.
For example, producers lobbied strongly for a co-production fund element to be included in the new programme at the hearing. The current EU MEDIA programme does not provide funding for production, concentrating instead on pre- and post-production support.
However, while the idea of co-production funding is technically still an option, sources close to the Commission are keen to play down the possibility, stressing that it is only one of many options being considered.
Digital issues also generated debate at the hearing. The need for the industry to take account of digital distribution was highlighted as a particularly important area for consideration.
The UK Film Council has pinpointed support for digital technologies, and online distribution in particular, as a 'missing' element in the current proposals for the new programme. Indeed, in its contribution to the public consultation on MEDIA MUNDUS, the Council described the digital element as a key feature needed to 'underpin' the programme.
All of the issues raised in the consultation process will now be considered as part of a wider impact assessment study to establish the scope of the new programme.
The Commission is expected to submit a proposal to the Council and European Parliament by the end of the year with a view to getting the new programme up and running by January 2012. This will run for an initial two-year period.
Continued EU level support for audiovisual cooperation on the international stage until then was confirmed at the hearing by the European Parliament, which announced funding for MEDIA International until end 2011.
The timetable indicates that the new international programme will run parallel to the existing MEDIA programme and will be funded separately, at least for the life of the current MEDIA programme. That news was welcomed by those who had feared a diminishing pot of money or a loss of focus for the present MEDIA programme.