Multiplex chain UCI will be hoping its ten-year odyssey to secure a ruling for its action against the constitutional nature of the German Film Law (FFG) will have a happy end at the Federal Constitutional Court.

However, yesterday’s first day of the hearing on the FFG and its financing of the German Federal Film Board (FFA) showed that the judges have some sympathy for the status quo.

According to one press report, the Court’s president Andreas Voßkuhle suggested  that one of the functions of film funding was also to support those films where one didn’t know whether they would be successful or not. This was hardly likely to make him friends with the UCI camp.

“We are not against cultural film funding if it is financed from taxes – but we don’t want to pay for it ourselves,” UCI’s lawyer Claus Binder said during the hearing.

Apart from UCI’s claim that the FFG is unconstitutional and film funding should be the preserve of the federal states (Länder) who are responsible for culture, the cinema operator has also protested at what it deems as unequal treatment between the exhibitors, video industry and broadcasters on the scale of the levies paid to ther FFA.

According to the FFG, exhbitors have been required to pay a levy of between 1.8% and 3% of the annual gross turnover made on each cinema screen so long as the lower threshold of €75,000 gross turnover is reached. In UCI’s case, this would mean the chain sending around €1m to the FFA each year.

In an interview with Deutschlandradio before the hearing in Karlsruhe, UCI’s Ralf Schilling explained why he was not prepared to make financial contributions to the FFA: “We would like to show more German films if there were then more commercially attractive films. That is unfortunately not the case, for 70% of the films funded by the FFA reach on average less than 50,000 cinema-goers. In our opinion, far too many films are funded and we no longer want to contribute with our money to the distribution of FFA funding indiscriminately.”

He added that UCI believed “successful films would have also found their way into the cinemas without film funding”.

However, Germany’s film producers would be certain to disagree with such an argument – even surefire box-office hits such as films by Til Schweiger, Matthias Schweighofer and comedies from Constantin Film – all tap into the project funding from the FFA.

In an interview with this week’s Der Spiegel, Constantin Film’s Martin Moszkowicz – who is also the chairman of German Films’ advisory board – warned: “if the money which the the German Federal Film Board invests in German productions each year was to cease to exist, that would be a major cutback. A large number of the films which are now produced in Germany could no longer be financed.”

Speaking at Tuesday’s hearing, Günter Winands, a senior civil servant at the State Ministry for Culture and Media (BKM), noted that the UCI’s action against the FFG claimed that they “are not reliant on German films for their programme” and that “each German film can be substituted by foreign films.”

“The claimants ignore the fact that they are themselves profiting from the FFA funding and a strong, quality-oriented German cinema,” Winands argued. “The major cinema chains are also generating a not insubstantial turnover from German and FFA-funded films.”

He added that the central government in Berlin and the federal states would not be able to step in financially if the FFA’s funding of around €70m a year was  to cease to exist.

Moreover, UCI was increasingly isolated in the German film industry with its arguments against the FFG and FFA: the overwhelming majority of cinemas support the FFG along with the broadcasters, video companies and theatrical distributors as well as the film industry interest groups including the German Film Academy, the German Producers Alliance and the film industry’s umbrella organisation SPIO. (ends)