French Film Exhibitors Discuss Threats to Public Funding

The French government is cutting funding for film and public broadcasting as part of a national austerity drive.

PARIS ­French film exhibitors and public broadcasters, accustomed to the enthusiastic support of the state, are having to tighten their belts.

The new 2013 budget from France's ministry of culture - published last week - included cuts to state broadcasters and a €150 million ($195 million) levy on France's National Cinema Center (CNC), which supports the production and promotion of French films.

The cuts are part of an overall austerity package introduced by French President Francois Hollande intended to tame the country's public sector debt which, according to France's statistics office, rose €43.2 billion euros to €1.833 trillion ($ 2.39 trillion) in the second quarter of 2012, or 91 percent of total economic output.

Cuts to France's culture sector - the cultural budget was cut 2.3 percent compared to 2012 with a 3.4 percent drop in financing for state broadcast group France Televisions - are minor compared with neighbor Spain, whose government lopped a nearly a third off its culture budget for 2013.

The CNC will make up some of the €150 million levy through an overhaul of the Internet operators tax - through which Internet companies will help finance the country's film industry - and the CNC's 2013 budget of €700 million ($912 million), is still substantial.

However, at an annual congress of the National Federation of French Cinemas (FNCF), held this week in Deauville, exhibitors expressed concern and stressed the need for continued public support.

Among cinema owners' laundry list of worries are an upcoming EU ruling on the legality of France’s new tax levy on TV distributors - expected on Oct. 19; and European experiments with VOD day-and-date releases.

Exiting FNCF director Jean Labe said she was not impressed by Minister of Culture Aurelie Filippetti’s offer to increase support to exhibitors by 6 percent in 2013. Labe argued that the boost was long overdue and would only help exhibitors catch up with inflation.

Smaller French exhibitors reported a drop of 10 percent in box office receipts last year and said they are struggling to finance the switch to digital projection. About 90 percent of French theaters are now equipped with digital projectors.

Access for the disabled was another central topic of discussion at the congress, with Filippetti announcing the launch of a consultation process aimed at creating a specific support fund. She set the goal for all French theaters to have disabled access by 2015.

Despite the talk of austerity and cutbacks, the congress ended on a high note, with exhibitors sitting through a day of trailer premieres and film clips.

These included Mars Distribution’s new Dany Boon vehicle Eyjafjallajökull and Cedric Klapisch’s third installment of cross-cultural imbroglios, Chinese puzzle(Studio Canal). Several minutes of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Only God Forgives were screened by distributor Le Pacte, and Sony showed off parts of Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.

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