Dijon fills bill for annual confab


DIJON, France -- For a decade-and-a-half, the French cinema industry held its annual talking shop in the Burgundy wine hub of Beaune, organized by the influential Society of Writers, Directors and Producers (ARP). But after falling out with the local mayor over his position on draft copyright legislation, ARP decided to take its Film Forum up the road to the regional capital Dijon, famous instead for its mustard and blackcurrant liquor.

Thus, participants at the Forum found a small pot of moutarde and a miniature of creme de cassis with the documentation setting out last weekend's agenda in Dijon.

Roundtables ranged from a nebulous discussion on how the growing dominance of television money in film financing is changing cinema, through a comprehensive overview of video-on-demand in Europe, to a downright dull institutional presentation on Saturday afternoon that left many in a postprandial slumber.

Dijon stumped up about $150,000 for the privilege of hosting the event. "Dijon is a city of culture, history and art; cinema is welcome," said Dijon Mayor Francois Rebsamen, noting that the city spends almost a quarter of its budget on culture -- roughly double the proportion most French town authorities put into that sector. Rebsamen said the idea is to stimulate film appreciation among the townspeople and to boost Dijon's image.

There's no doubt the city made a considerable effort to welcome its guests, who included delegations from the WGA, DGA, MPA and the U.K. Film Council.

Besides the debates, gourmet lunches were served in the congress center and early evenings were taken up with screenings of upcoming French films, followed by a cocktail or dinner.

The high point was a gala reception held in the Palais des Ducs, once the power base of feudal Burgundy.

Writer-director Jeanne Labrunecq, president of the ARP, and Oscar-winning director Constantin Costa-Gavras presided over the Dijon forum and greeted guests in an ornate 18th century salon hung with vast paintings and gilt chandeliers where some of the city's top chefs laid on local specialties.

So, did Dijon cut the mustard as host city for Gaul's premier film industry powwow? Some said they regretted the small-town atmosphere of Beaune, which traditionally saw the die-hards drink and dance till the small hours in the sole nightclub. "But the food's better here," was the opinion of more than one Dijon attendee.

For its part, the forum fulfilled its traditional role of providing a platform to express current concerns about challenges facing the industry and produced the inevitable closing communique from ARP, which declared that the "cinematographic art" is under serious threat. The organization called on the French authorities and Brussels to enact measures to support and protect European cinema, notably through the development of VoD.