Local ties tenuous in Europe

2010 promises more cross-border success in film

LONDON -- Irish-American "Tip" O'Neill once remarked that "all politics is local," an observation that almost certainly could have bannered the movie industry across Europe this year as the runners and riders gear up for 2010.

As the Speaker of the House of Representatives, O'Neill believed that accounting for -- and to -- your local constituency equated to political success. He was popular because he listened to his people.

And in every major territory across Europe -- from the U.K. to Germany, France, Italy and Spain -- the movie movers-and-shakers who have lived and died by the local sword in 2009 will be looking at 2010 as a year unlikely to bring change to that outlook.

The U.K. is set to break the billion-pound boxoffice threshold by the end of the year with admissions also beating last year's figures by the end of 2009, with production activity rising during 2009 from the previous year.

Much of the boxoffice success has to do with the success of "local" movies such as "Slumdog Millionaire," "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," "In the Loop," "Damned United" and "Harry Brown."

But 2010 promises a leaner, meaner U.K. Film Council, a scaled-back Film4 and tougher times for BBC Films.

Production levels in 2010 will also likely suffer when the final installment of the lucrative "Harry Potter" franchise is in the can and the crew who have spent more than 10 years working on it clock off and look for other gigs.

But it is the squeeze on the budgetary ambitions of the two broadcasters still involved in moviemaking that will impact here and across European borders.

Between them, BBC Films and Film4 have played the key role in the birth and production of cross-border titles in 2009, including Danny Boyle's Oscar winner "Slumdog Millionaire," "The Lovely Bones" from Peter Jackson, and "An Education," which created a potential awards platform for lead actress Carey Mulligan.

And let's not forget other titles with broadcast-backing such as "Looking for Eric," "The Scouting Book for Boys," "Glorious 39," "Bright Star" and "Edge of Darkness."

With Universal-backed Working Title looking to 2010 to better a disappointing 2009 -- by its own high standards -- after "The Boat That Rocked" and "State of Play" failed to ignite the boxoffice, all eyes will be on "Green Zone."

2010 will also bring fresh Ken Loach, Mike Leigh and Danny Boyle projects and big production bucks spending from the 23rd James Bond flick to British shores.

So whatever kind of government -- there's a general election in the U.K. next year -- oversees the shrinking of the UKFC, a potential merger of the Council with the British Film Institute, the tightening of the purse strings at Film4 and ever-increased scrutiny of BBC Films, it will mean local politics will play big across borders. Be it in Hollywood or in Europe.

One thing is sure, Europe will continue to be a happy hunting ground for U.S. studios looking to snap up successful local product and turn it into global hits.

When Sony Pictures Worldwide finalizes a deal to produce the English-language remakes of the best-selling crime novels from Sweden's Stieg Larsson, that will likely play out big across Europe.

The adaptation of Larsson's first novel, "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo," grossed $100 million across Europe and launched the career of star Noomi Rapace. Produced on a TV movie budget with financing from Scandi and German broadcasters, the Millennium films are already pointing to a new model for making cross-border Euro hits.

Germany endured a schizophrenic year in 2009 for its industry.

Local productions continued to pack them in with comedy vets Michael "Bully" Herbig with his family-friendly romp "Vicky the Viking" and Til Schweiger with "Rabbit Without Ears 2," the sequel to his rom-com smash from 2008, both passing the one million admissions mark.

Germany also beat its Festival de Cannes curse when Michael Haneke's "The White Ribbon" -- his first German-language film in a decade -- took the Palme d'Or before following up with a trio of European Film Awards and a Golden Globe nom.

But behind the scenes, Germany's film industry was engaged in civil war. Several big multiplex chains filed a lawsuit protesting Germany's mandatory levy on boxoffice revenues -- a tax used to subsidize local film production. When a court ruled in their favor, and suggested the Teutonic film subsidy law could be unconstitutional, it set off a crisis. The local film industry still hasn't recovered.

The German government is now trying to rush through a change in the law to get around the suit. If it fails, everything from local film financing to a government-backed digital cinema rollout plan could be in danger.

For France, 2009 saw the introduction of the country's first tax incentive aimed at attracting foreign productions to shoot there. 2010 will decide if the bold move made by France to join the rest of the world in offering such incentives pays off.

But the big story in Gaul in 2010 will continue to be the rise and rise of the Pierre-Ange Le Pogam and Luc Besson-founded powerhouse Europa Corp, just what Jacques Audiard is going to follow Cannes fave "A Prophet" with, and the influence of Pathe productions at home and in the U.K.

Certainly Europa Corp, modeled on the vertically integrated U.S. studios, is proving that glossy local pics such as "Tell No One" and "The Singer" can steal a march on boxoffice and rivals alike. It also backed English-language adventures with "Taken," starring Liam Neeson, the Transporter franchise, and "The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada" coining in cross border lucre.

2010 will be the year to build on the success so far.

In Spain, however, it's all about piracy and falling boxoffice.

The country is reeling from the news that it's the No. 1 piracy place in Europe going into 2010 and is planning measures in the New Year to really make the culprits walk the plank.

As for Italy, it's always been about politics. If it's not Italo primo Silvio Berlusconi fighting the legal system he created to make life easier for his company Mediaset, it's the organizers of Venice and Rome festivals battling it out to become the glitziest Italian destination festival shindig.

And in the meantime, local fare from top-flight moviemakers such as Giuseppe Tornatore with "Baaria" or Renzo Martinelli with "Barbarossa" continue to lose the audience war with Hollywood concoctions such as "Inglourious Basterds" and "The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus."

Local issues with cross-border implications, as O'Neill would have put it.

Scott Roxborough contributed to this report.