Latest EU film initiative focuses on exports

Technology creates more demand for audiovisual content

BRUSSELS -- From last year's foreign-language Oscar champ "The Counterfeiters" to Palme d'Or winner "The Class," Europe's system of subsidies and quotas has played a central role in getting countless projects off the ground. But the newest EU aid package aims to support movies in a different way: by giving them a push beyond Europe and onto world markets.

Dubbed Media Mundus, the proposed program would promote European movies in overseas territories via training and workshops, festivals and distribution schemes, while at the same time supporting foreign filmmakers' efforts to break into the EU market.

Mundus would run alongside the EU's long-established Media plan, which has backed dozens of celebrated films. The hope is that the promotion of European films and talent outside Europe will boost consumer choice while creating opportunities for the industry.

EU Media commissioner Viviane Reding believes that technological advances including VOD, Internet TV and multichannel digital television have created a growing demand for audiovisual content.

"We need to fill all these new technologies with new and exciting content," she said. "Media Mundus is the right cultural answer to this global technological challenge."

The current Media program will pump almost $1 billion into the European film industry over the 2007-13 period. And while the funding for Media Mundus is relatively meager in comparison -- just $20 million over three years -- EU officials say this could well hit $100 million a year if the project proves itself.

"By the next budget package, it should have demonstrated that there is an interest in such partnerships and indeed a necessity in them," said Reding aide Christophe Forax.

"This is not about culture for the sake of culture," Forax added. "This is first and foremost about boosting the competitiveness of our media and audiovisual industry by having a strong presence outside Europe."

Skeptics might wonder if there really is a demand for these sorts of efforts. But a $3 million pilot project, dubbed Media International, found enough interest to launch 18 ventures across the globe -- from a cartoon co-production with Canadian filmmakers to workshops with Indian producers.

And officials say that the Media program already has proved its worth as a revenue generator. About 300 European films are backed by Media each year. But the EC says that every euro invested in the program generates 5.75 euros ($7.56) in follow-up investments, 2.83 euros ($3.72) in education, 7.2 euros ($9.47) in distribution and 4.19 euros ($5.52) in development.

"The current Media program is Europe for Europe," said Agnieszka Moody, director of the Media desk at the U.K. Film Council. "It was adequate for the previous world. But in the Internet world, why shouldn't people be able to see films from outside Europe? Likewise, shouldn't European films be more available in faraway countries? This is about Europe being part of the world, not in its own cocoon."

Moody also underlined the financial incentive. "It is about finding new markets," she said. "It can show that cultural diversity and competitiveness are not mutually exclusive principles."

One of the main beneficiaries of Media Mundus is expected to be Europa Cinemas, an EU- and government-funded network of almost 800 cinemas committed to mainly European programming.

"We have long wanted to raise the visibility of European cinema outside Europe, and this is the only way to build up a market," Europa Cinemas international relations boss Fatima Djoumer said. "We will be able to raise our average funding -- from 12,000 euros ($15,800) to 15,000 euros ($19,750) per film per distributor. And it means we can help more releases."

Other groups are expected to take part in Media Mundus, including European Film Promotion, a network of European promotion and export organizations.

And while Hollywood producers don't enjoy government aid when it comes to breaking into foreign markets, MPA president and managing director for Europe Christopher Marcich said he believes the scheme can help the wider film industry.

"Despite the assumptions about us, we don't object to this," he said. "Subsidies can help in building the film sector in some countries. And that helps everybody."