Media Program Boosts Diversity and Reach of European Cinema

·6-min read

European filmmakers are fortunate to have a friend in Brussels who reliably lends a hand getting their movies made and seen.

For the past 30 years, the European Union’s Media program has supported film industries across the EU in myriad ways, investing more than €2.6 billion ($3.1 billion) in programs that boost the output of new local movies and other content from development to distribution.

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Since 1991, the Media Program has been systematically pursuing its stated goals of promoting European cultural and linguistic diversity and pushing to increase circulation of European films within Europe and beyond.

Almost every European auteur, from Pedro Almodóvar to Bosnia’s Jasmila Žbanić (“Quo Vadis, Aida?”) — whose latest works are both recent recipients — draws vital benefits from the program’s unwavering support.

Among the films that have received recent support from Media are Cannes competition titles “The Story of My Wife,” “Bergman Island,” “Compartment No. 6,” “Titane” and “Three Floors.” Other Media-backed titles at Cannes include “Onoda — 10,000 Nights in the Jungle,” which opens Un Certain Regard.

“Our indirect long-term goal is to create the habit amongst European audiences to see non-national [European] films that do not necessarily have to be supported by us,” says Media chief Lucía Recalde, who adds that cross-border circulation of these pics has been increasing significantly.

Since its outset, the Program has offered two specific schemes to boost distribution: the Media Automatic Support, a grant to distributors for European films when they play outside their countries of origin, based on a percentage of their box office performance; and the Media Selective, which supports groups of at least seven European distributors from different countries who acquire the same film, thus giving the pic a de facto pan-continental release.

“Media is simply the most important fund that exists for us as a sales agent, and also for our distributors,” says Jenny Walendy, head of legal and business affairs at German sales powerhouse the Match Factory.

Walendy points out that the automatic support scheme, in which Media provides distributors a grant to invest in a minimum guarantee to buy a new European film only if their previous movie made money at the box office, works well because you are being rewarded “for doing a good job.” The selective scheme, in which a group of distributors can get funding for up to 50% of their print and advertising expenses for the pan-European launch of a European pic, is “a really nice program to encourage closer collaboration among [European] distributors, but also between distributors and sales agents.” “One thing I’m sure about is that Media is extremely important when I’m making my decision to buy a film,” says veteran French distributor Eric Lagesse, president of Pyramide Distribution.

“When the sales agent tells you: ‘There are already 12 distributors and we might get the selective Media support,’ that makes a big difference.” But he’s less enthusiastic about the increasingly “complicated” paperwork needed to get that grant, especially during the pandemic.

Indeed, “during the pandemic, access to [Media] cash flow stopped,” says Christine Eloy, managing director of Europa Distribution, which represents more than 100 indie distributors across the E.U. Eloy points out that “in general, Media is not equipped to offer a very immediate and direct answer” to calls for help because its rules are bound by a stiff legal framework, but that “it still provides a very important safety net.” Media’s greatest accomplishment, according to European Film Academy president Matthijs Wouter Knol, is that it has Cinéart enabled filmmakers and the industries in individual E.U.

countries “to start thinking on a European level when it comes to projects and say: ‘This is a great idea! How can we make it work for the rest of Europe as well?’” while giving them the tools to team up with the most congenial pan-European partners to get it on the screen.

Knol has been involved with Media in many ways during his more than two decades in the industry. First as a film producer, tapping into its funding; then as head of the Media-supported Berlinale Talents program, which nurtures emerging global filmmakers; as chief of Berlin’s European Film Market that, though not financially backed by Media, is strongly supported by all the events it organizes there; and finally as chief of the program-supported European Film Academy, which runs Europe’s rough equivalent of the Oscars.

He points out its “whole fine maze of training programs” that “have really professionalized the industry in Europe.” “They’ve shown up everywhere in parts of Europe that were not on the map, setting up programs and adapting to how the market is evolving,” Knol adds.

“Our support goes in a more than proportional way to content and film professionals from smaller countries; this is how we are broadening their participation in the market,” Recalde says.

“Content from smaller countries, in lesser-used languages,” clearly has a tougher time breaking out internationally.

Besides being born with the idea of creating strong pan-European collaborations, and raising the profile of countries that had lower production capabilities, Media’s goal from the outset has also been to “foster real European co-productions; not just purely financial ones,” says Lucia Milazzotto, director of Rome’s MIA market for international TV series, films and docs. It was launched in 2015, with support in part from Media, and has become a cornerstone of pan-European cross-pollination.

Another key area of the Program’s support is promotion of the continent’s works and talents through European Film Promotion, the umbrella entity that, besides its Shooting Stars initiative for talents, sets up stands for sales agents at events including the Toronto Film Festival, the Asian Film Market in Busan and Hong Kong’s FilMart.

“We try to help improve circulation of European films by working on a business-to-business basis,” says EFP managing director Sonja Heinen. E.U. sales companies can apply for 50% support on their spend for film promotion campaigns at international festivals.

“We think: ‘What can we do for the films?’” At this year’s Sundance, which took place virtually, EFP organized a dedicated session with 10 invited U.S. buyers to plug six European pics at the fest, including “Hive,” the female empowerment drama from Kosovo by first-time director Blerta Basholli.

“Hive,” which ended up winning three major Sundance awards, has since been sold by Danish sales company LevelK for theatrical distribution pretty much around the world, including North America, the U.K., China, Australia and New Zealand, besides having secured releases in a large swathe of continental Europe.

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