Michel Hazanavicius Defends French Position on Cultural Exception in U.S.-EU Trade Talks

DGA Awards | Los Angeles, Jan. 29
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After winning the feature film prize, "The Artist's" Michel Hazanavicius said, "You never know how the vote will go, so yes, of course it was a surprise. I'm very proud because the recognition of your peers is something very special."

Oscar-winning director says cinema should not be a bargaining chip.

PARIS – Oscar-winning director Michel Hazanavicius defended the French position on the cultural exception in U.S.-EU trade talks after a defeated European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called it “extremely reactionary.”

"This is indicative of those people who are not elected and govern Europe with great arrogance and conceit,” said Hazanavicius in an interview with radio Europe1 on Tuesday. “This way of working alone without listening to anyone creates European dogma but no European policy.”

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The French position came to a head last week as the parameters for the talks were being set, with France threatening to use its veto on any rules that did not exclude cinema and audiovisual works from being put on the bargaining table. Barroso had supported a compromise measure, but a stubborn France refused to budge. France ultimately won the battle late Friday night, with Barroso's angry interview being published Monday morning.

"It's part of this anti-globalization agenda," he said. "Some say they belong to the left, but in fact they are culturally extremely reactionary."

Hazanavicius has long been an active supporter of the cultural exception, along with his wife, The Artist star Berenice Bejo, who traveled to Brussels last week to present Barroso with more than 7,000 petition signatures supporting the exception.

Along with Hazanavicius, directors Michael Haneke (Amour), Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt), Olivier Nakache (The Intouchables), Pedro Almodovar (Volver), Stephen Frears (The Queen), Mike Leigh (Vera Drake) and Ken Loach (The Angel's Share) signed on. During the Cannes Film Festival, both Harvey Weinstein and Steven Spielberg expressed support for the cultural exception as well.

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French cinema, which relies on a complex system of television and movie ticket taxes to heavily subsidize filmmakers through a film fund, would be “very weak” without the exception, Hazanavicius said. “It would be very difficult for us to be competitive in a deregulated market. Americans can make a movie for $100 million, then sell it to the whole world. For us, our market is France. If you remove the cultural exception, we will not die, but [we] will calcify, as happened in Italy," he added, cautioning against following the lead of the once-vibrant but now moribund film industry to the south.

He also added that as entertainment moves online, ISPs that stream movies, VOD services or other entertainment content should be added to the tax system, another position supported by France that has received opposition from Europe.

"Culture is one of the few industries that's fine. It creates social ties,” he said. “We do not want to be a chip on the poker table.”