European Film Policy
This paper reports on research on the scope and opportunities for promoting
European film through policies targeted at theatrical exhibition. Having
commented extensively on the commercial prospects of the sector, this paper
therefore looks more closely at the positive role that the European Commission,
or any member state government, can play to support one of the objectives
of MEDIA Salles, namely to enhance the prospects of European film in European
In most countries, commercial exhibitors are seen as being resistant
to measures aimed at enhancing the circulation of films with insufficient
audience appeal. It is, however, in the long term interest of exhibitors
to have adequate supply of European films that have wide audience appeal.
They see their task as running viable businesses on the one hand, and showing
films audiences want to see on the other. If these two considerations favour
films produced and/or distributed by the US majors, they regard this as
an inescapable fact of life. They tend to attribute the poor audiences
for European films - especially for films produced in European countries
other than their own - as a function of the poor quality of those films,
at least in terms of popular entertainment. While this appear not to be
true for all European films, there are too many for which this may well
be the case.
A different view is that there is something about the structure of
the industry that militates against the success of these films. Producers
complain that they cannot get access to screens and that major distributors
discriminate against European films in favour of US products. These complaints
then naturally lead to calls for regulatory measures, such as exhibition
quotas, or subsidies for European film production. Other measures that
are advocated are subsidies for cinemas that are dedicated to showing European
This paper specifically addresses three issues:
(I) To what extent do industry structures, particularly at the
distribution and exhibition level, militate against non-national and non-US
product and restrict access by European films to exhibition?
(II) Can we see why, apart from cultural reasons, non-national European
films should consistently fare better in some countries than others?
(III) How does the release management through publicly supported cinemas
contribute to the success of European films?
The survey and analysis of the above issues is partly based on previous
work by London Economics(16) and other studies
on the role of US majors in this White Book(17).
(16) See "Retailing European Films:
the case of the European exhibition industry", MBS/LE, January 1993
(17) See Paper 2.2
In addition, this paper has two main planks in terms of new quantitative
the performance of films in receipt of EFDO support;
We use the data we have assembled to draw out the tendencies in the handling
of European films by distributors, in terms of marketing budgets, the number
of prints, release patterns and playdates. We look at the programming practices
of the UK's Regional Film Theatre (RFT) network, and the audiences for
European films the RFT's attract. For these two analyses, we gratefully
acknowledge the receipt of comprehensive data by EFDO and the British Film
the films screened by UK publicly-supported cinemas, and their audiences.
There is no major access problem for European film-makers at the level
of exhibition. European film has to tap into the mainstream culture of
film if it wants to be successful. Similar to the music industry, where
the European contribution is much greater than in film, there is a need
to produce films which appeal to the young, frequent film goers. To fail
to do so puts film-makers into a niche market position.
If there is an access problem, then it is at the level of distribution.
European film has to out-perform US material in order to be taken into
the pipeline of the US majors. At present there is no major European distributor
of mainstream film which can match the position of the established US majors
and offer exhibitors a sequence of well-marketed European films with broad
audience appeal. This points to public support for a genuine European distribution
initiative for mainstream films as a significant policy option. Measures
aimed directly at exhibition alone are less likely to be effective in supporting
mainstream European films.
The success of individual films supported by the European Film Distribution
Office (EFDO) varies considerably from country to country. There are great
variations in the level of promotion and the depth of a release in the
countries analyzed. The example of Switzerland shows how successful wide
releases in a large number of cinemas can be. This contrasts starkly with
some other countries, such as the UK, which do not promote the distribution
of European film to the same extent.
The example of the publicly supported network of regional film theatres
in the UK demonstrates another aspect of promotion of European film, namely
that second run releases can be successfully exploited for films which
had a commercially successful first run. Publicly supported film theatres
cannot, however, break a film without being part of a much wider commercial
campaign. Again the analysis highlights the primary role of distribution
as against exhibition for the promotion of European film.
The paper also raises the issue of the definition of the objective
and implementation of a European film policy. An effective European film
policy must seek to support significant levels of economic activity in
the European film industry and not only follow a cultural objective. The
culturally-driven policy risks putting European film-makers into a niche
position that will always make it difficult for them to reach a significant
share of the cinema-going audience. A more commercially-driven policy would
also support international, big-budget film making as long as there was
a significant share of activities that were undertaken in Europe, or by
Europe-based film-makers. In such a world, the nationality of the producers
or the origin of finance would lose its over-riding importance as criteria
for qualifying for European film support.