Sabine Verheyen

Speaking during the Digital European Film Forum on the opening day of the Cannes virtual market, German MEP Sabine Verheyen made an impassioned plea for further European investment in the film and cultural sectors to stave off the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Verheyen, who is chair of the European Parliament’s committee on culture and education, addressed “the enormous impact” of the crisis.

“We have seen cinemas, small venues, big concert halls, theatres and museums close their doors,” Verheyen said. “These sectors are facing ruin and the European Union still needs to do much more – and to do it much more quickly.

“We’ve adopted substantial aid packages, notably the Coronavirus response investment initiative,” the MEP pointed out, but added that small businesses in the sector look “at the mass of paperwork” necessary to receive support and “run a mile”. Either that, or they do not “fit the conditions set out in the programmes”.

The MEP called for a “guarantee facility under Creative Europe” that will enable those within the sector to access further financing. The challenge now, Verheyen added, is to ensure culture is represented fully in discussions about EU recovery plans.

“Spending money on culture and cultural education is investing in the future of the continent. Let’s use this opportunity to redefine our priorities,” she urged.

“If today we do not support our artists, creators, actors and professionals working in those sectors, it may have devastating consequences for cultural diversity and mean that we will not have access to the range of cultural content and expressions we do now.”

The creative and cultural sectors are estimated to account for more than 4% of GDP in the EU and to employ 7 million people. “The shooting of films and TV series has been stopped and the long-term closure of that industry would be disastrous for Europe and its cultural identity and competitiveness in a global market dominated by American content,” said Verheyen, who has served as an MEP since 2009.

She also expressed her disappointment at the proposed funding for the next MEDIA Programme.

“As Chair of the Culture Commission, I am deeply concerned about the Commission’s proposals of the budget and recovery plan – the specific figures for the cultural and media programmes are deeply disappointing. All figures are far below the Commission’s original 2018 proposal for the 2021-2027 budget.

“The Creative Europe programme, of which the MEDIA programme is an essential part, will not be increased and it is very unfortunate that the Commission is proposing lower numbers compared to its original proposals two years ago.

“Any money taken from the cultural programmes would have a devastating impact on the sectors and yet yield only a drop in the ocean of the broader post-Covid 19 recovery,” she added.

Verheyen also noted that “no video conferencing tool in the world can replace the Cannes Film Festival”.

Guiney’s blast of optimism

Her comments followed an address from Thierry Breton, European commissioner for internal market. Other panellists included Cannes Film Festival president Pierre Lescure, Unifrance director general Daniela Elstner and Element Pictures CEO Ed Guiney.

Guiney, producer of RoomThe Lobster and The Favourite, provided a blast of optimism to the panel, saying that he felt “very optimistic” about the recovery prospects for European cinema.

“Once coronavirus passes, which it will do, people will really relish the communal experience that cinema offers,” said the Irish producer, who suggested that watching films at home during lockdown only “increases the hunger to be back out and have a communal experience.”

Normal People_Daisy Edgar-Jones Paul Mescal Photo Enda Bowe Hulu_hi res

Source: Enda Bowe/Hulu

‘Normal People’

“One of the things we have seen is that television has really upped its game,” he continued. “There have been incredible television series made in Europe and all around the world – I think that in a way inspires cinema to do better. The bar is raised so high that people who work in cinema have to provide audiences with a real reason to leave home.”

Element Pictures’ own expansion into TV production in recent years yielded the company’s recent hit adaptation of Sally Rooney’s Normal People for the BBC and Hulu, which has proved a hit with critics and viewers during the pandemic lockdown.

Guiney also cited South Korean box office and awards phenomenon Parasite as “a game-changer”, and expressed his belief that there is now “a huge appetite among cinemagoers to see things that are different, from diverse voices”.

“We are brilliantly positioned in Europe to respond to that demand. There is a hunger for big, bold, audacious films. I would love to see more of those films out of Europe in the future.”