The future role of the European Union’s MEDIA programme in the continent’s film industry remains unclear following plans to restructure arts spending in Europe. Martin Blaney reports
The invitations had been sent out and the champagne put on ice to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the European Union’s MEDIA programme. Then, just 24 hours before the Valentine’s Day party during this year’s Berlinale, the news broke that, given the economic climate, the present MEDIA 2007 programme could be the last edition.
The prospect of the end of MEDIA proved the main talking point for the rest of the festival and concentrated the minds of the assembled European film community to rally forces in support of the EU programme which has a budget of $1.12bn (€775m) over seven years from 2007-13. Letters were sent by the European Film Agency Directors (EFADs), the Federation of European Film Directors (FERA) and a group of 12 industry associations to the European Commission (EC) president Jose Manuel Barroso calling on him to maintain MEDIA in its present form after 2013.
In addition, more than 10,000 signatures have been gathered from all over Europe by the French producers association L’ARP, along with CARTOON and the European Film Academy.
“If it was not for MEDIA, we would not be able today to even talk about a European audiovisual industry because this industry would not have been able to offer the non-national European cinema and TV contents in the various audiovisual marketplaces of the EU and associated countries,” said L’ARP’s declaration.
The swiftness with which European film-makers mobilised their ranks to lobby for MEDIA’s future did not go unnoticed by the upper echelons of the European Commission in its Brussels HQ. In response to the growing concerns about MEDIA, Barroso countered: “Rumours we intend to abolish it or reduce its funding are completely unfounded. On the contrary, our plan is to strengthen the programme in future.”
‘If it was not for MEDIA, we would not be able today to even talk about a European audiovisual industry’
Androulla Vassiliou, EC commissioner for education, culture, multilingualism and youth, added she would “want to ensure we spend any euro in this programme with maximum efficiency. I also want to make it more user-friendly. These are the best ways to ensure the added value of the programme in the future.”
In the run-up to March’s public hearing on MEDIA in Brussels, there had been concern among professionals about the financial independence of a future MEDIA programme.
But a delegation including film-makers Costa-Gavras, Theo Angelopoulos and Cristian Mungiu were assured by Barroso and Vassiliou that the programme “should be upheld, in both its operational and budgetary autonomy” and they would commit to a “close and permanent exchange and co-operation” with European film-makers for planning the framework of the future MEDIA programme.
But hopes MEDIA would continue operating as an autonomous entity after 2013 were dashed. Jan Truszczynski, director general of directorate-general (DG) for education and culture, explained the commission is looking at bringing the EU’s culture programme together with MEDIA and MEDIA Mundus within a new Creative Europe programme.
“I do realise that, for many, the value of a standalone MEDIA programme seems to be stronger and there is apprehension the benefits to date of a standalone would be less in a bigger programme,” Truszczynski observed. He added he was “100% confident” the MEDIA strand would “not suffer at all” under such an umbrella.
Aviva Silver, the EC’s head of MEDIA unit, Directorate General Education and Culture, added the structure of a new programme will depend on a number of elements such as the results of last autumn’s online consultation, the March hearing and further meetings of different focus groups. In addition, there will be a meeting about MEDIA during Cannes on May 16. “In many ways, the future is in your hands,” she pointed out to the industry.
Meanwhile, Vassiliou has consistently pointed to the role culture could play in growth and job creation throughout the EU in her lobbying for budgetary resources for the film industry. “Some 3%-4% of the GDP [of the entire EU] is a very, very important contribution. It’s more than the car industry, the plastic industry, the chemical industry,” she said at an informal meeting of the EU’s culture ministers in Hungary on March 28. “We should pass this message to finance ministers, prime ministers, presidents who are going to make the decision for our future budgets and financial framework.”
The word from Europe
Jose Manuel Barroso, European Commission
‘Rumours we intend to abolish it or reduce its funding are completely unfounded. Our plan is to strengthen the programme in future’
Androulla Vassiliou, European Commission
‘3%-4% of the GDP of the EU is a very, very important contribution. It’s more than the car industry, the plastic industry, the chemical industry’
Aviva Silver, MEDIA
‘In many ways, the future of the MEDIA programme is in your hands’