European Petition to Exclude Film From U.S. Free-Trade Talks Reaches 5,000 Supporters

10:17 AM PST 05/14/2013 by Georg Szalai

Filmmakers such as Michael Haneke, Mike Leigh and Pedro Almodovar have supported the "cultural exception," which is expected to also be a topic of debate in Cannes.

CANNES -- More than 5,000 directors, writers, technicians, producers, distributors and exhibitors across Europe have backed efforts to take film funding off the table in upcoming free-trade negotiations between the U.S. and the European Union, organizers of a petition said Tuesday.

In Europe, the movie industry is heavily subsidized. Most films rely on forms of national or regional financial support.

STORY: European Film Academy Wants Movies Excluded From U.S. Free-Trade Talks

Dozens of leading European filmmakers, including Michael Haneke, Mike Leigh, Michel Hazanavicius, Aki Kaurismaki, Stephen Frears and Pedro Almodovar, as well as international directors that rely on European film funding, such as David Lynch and Jane Campion, have signed the online petition in support of the so-called “cultural exception" that they say the creative industries in Europe deserve.

The issue is also expected to be a topic of debate among film industry folks during the Cannes Film Festival. Thomas Vinterberg, the head of the jury of the Un Certain Regard sidebar of the festival, and Walter Salles, who last year brought On the Road to the Croisette, are also among the directors who have signed the petition. 

STORY: European Commission Begins Final Consultation on Film Subsidies

The debate kicked off earlier this year when the European Commissioner for trade, Karel De Gucht, presented a draft negotiation mandate for the U.S. trade talks, which are set to start this summer. It included the film and TV industries as part of the talks, sparking fears among industry folks across the continent. 

“Nothing in the free trade agreement with the United States will harm -- or even have the potential to harm -- Europe’s cultural diversity," de Gucht said, but creatives have continued to speak out on the issue.

"So far, 5,000 directors, writers, technicians, producers, distributors and exhibitors across Europe have already expressed their concern about the cultural exception being called into question," organizers of the petition in favor of the "cultural exception" said Tuesday afternoon. They include such industry groups as Eurocinema, Europa Cinemas and Europa Distribution.

They said they "regret that the European Commission has refused until now to pay attention to the significant rallying of the European film industry and continues to maintain a dangerous position for the future of culture in Europe."

The groups also encouraged European leaders "to take into account the issues and risks such a large negotiation mandate holds for cultural diversity."

A draft opinion of the international trade committee of the European Parliament excludes the audiovisual sectors from the free trade negotiations with the U.S. Organizers of the petition reiterated Tuesday that they hope that a scheduled vote on it in a parliamentary plenary session on May 22 "will confirm this important step for the preservation of the cultural exception."

The concept of the "cultural exception" was pushed by France in the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) talks in the early 1990s.

Email: Georg.Szalai@thr.com

Twitter: @georgszalai

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