If we prefer thought-provoking European films to formulaic blockbusters, we must halt this attempt to buffer the power of monopolistic players
Ken Loach’s second Cannes Palme d’Or for his new film, I, Daniel Blake is the ultimate accolade for a politically engaged film-maker, whose body of work has consistently challenged establishment politics and the erosion of social justice in neoliberal economies. Beyond Ken’s much-deserved triumph, this award also affirms the importance of a certain type of committed European film-making that is valued by audiences within the EU and the rest of the world. As a European film-maker – and producer of I, Daniel Blake – I am deeply concerned therefore that current plans by the European Commission to intervene in the business model for European film and TV distribution will make it virtually impossible for films such as I, Daniel Blake to continue to be made.
As attention is fixed on the EU referendum in the UK, we mustn’t lose sight of what is on the horizon. The Digital Single Market strategy (DSM), outlined in a document released at the end of last year, threatens to make it impossible for distribution companies to secure rights to films on a territory-by-territory basis. Ultimately, all films made available on any online platform would have to be made available across the whole of the EU at once. By ignoring the complexities of the European model for film financing and distribution, this prescriptive vision in fact threatens to make Europe’s fragile film industry unsustainable, and ultimately to short-change the very European consumers it purports to empower.
Our company, Sixteen Films, only makes projects by European film-makers with original voices. The majority of these films could not be made if they were to rely purely on commercial funding from the UK. Over time, we have developed a sound business model to share the financial burden of producing such films through long-term partnerships with film distributors in many other EU countries. The linchpin of this delicate system is our freedom to choose to sell rights to these projects, on an exclusive basis, to national distributors for their own market.
The European commission is simply wrong to assume that this model prevents European audiences from having access to European films. It does precisely the opposite: the sustained popularity of Ken’s films in countries such as France and Italy attests to the skills of local distributors who understand their national culture and are uniquely placed to develop their audiences’ loyalty to his body of work. These distributors are not large multinationals; they are SMEs (small or medium enterprises) with limited cash in the bank and they would not be able to stay in business if no longer able to secure exclusivity for the rights they acquire to independent films.
A recent study by Oxera and O&O bears out these concerns: if EU producers should no longer be free to sell film rights on a territorial basis, there will be a steep decline in EU audiovisual output overall. The study forecasts as much as a 48% reduction of new local TV content production, and 37% fewer local films.
If left unopposed, this misguided DSM strategy will only serve to buffer the power of monopolistic players in the new online marketplace, squeezing out opportunities for thought-provoking European films to be made, and fostering a monoculture of formulaic blockbusters. Regardless of the referendum outcome on 23 June, the many who – like myself – are committed pro-Europeans, must fight to prevent this desiccated vision of cultural Europe from winning the day.
- Rebecca O’Brien is the MD of Sixteen Films. She has produced Ken Loach’s last 15 films.