How are films co-produced in the Mediterranean, what grants and institutional and private backers are there, and what are the legal or artistic constraints linked to co-production ? These are only a fraction of the issues raised at the round-table organised by the Montpellier Festival of Mediterranean Cinema in collaboration with the EU’s EuroMed Audiovisual Programme, on October 25, 2011. First of all an observation from Valerio Caruso, who runs the programme’s monitoring unit: distributors are displaying a growing interest in co-productions in Euro-Mediterranean countries and EuroMed Audiovisual, which is entering its 3rd phase with a budget of 11 Million €, is pursuing its objective of developing the film and audiovisual sectors in the Southern Mediterranean countries, notably in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Israel, Lybia, Morocco, Syria, Palestine and Tunisia. Transmitting knowledge and best practices is an important part of the programme : Tunisian lawyer Mehdi Ahmadi thus presented the latest tool put in place, a legal database available online (www.euromedaudiovisuel.net) which lists among others the various legislations, funding for the cinema industry, possible shooting locations and other logistical bits of information in the 10 Mediterranean countries, notably with regards to production, author’s rights, film shooting rights, etc. This database is equally aimed at professionals who work in the North on coproductions with the South and at those who embark on a South-South production.
Thomas Sonsino, head of production funding commissions at the National Centre of Cinematography (CNC, France), briefly took stock of the various funding mechanisms - automatic funding, advance on receipts… – and of the Southern Fund, co-managed by the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the CNC. This fund contributes to an average of 25 films from Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, Latin America and Asia with funding of around 110 000 € per film. It should in 2012 be replaced with another system, the world cinema funding, which disposes of greater resources (6 M €). More recently the CNC established a grant for foreign languages films, aimed at films that are not eligible for the Southern Fund or to advance on receipts for language reasons.
The complex and diverse grant mechanisms, both French and European, public and private, often escape young directors and producers and even more those who work in Southern Mediterranean countries… International co-productions allow for the financing of certain fragile films to be strengthened, thanks to the access to grants of those countries in which the co-production companies are based. These have therefore grown, especially with countries which have established attractive mechanisms of support for production (regional and national funds, tax exemption systems such as the Sofica). These grants often come with an obligation to relocate the making of films and notably post-production, as for example for the Southern Funds.
Producer Yael Fogiela thus explained the difficult financial montage of Hadar Friedlich’s film Les jardins d’Hanna – it took him 5 years – within a bilateral Israël/France framework (French nationality allowed him access to European film quotas) but with a project begun in a Southern country and a first financing in Israel, followed by French grants, including the Gan Foundation, and awards at various festivals. Marie Gutman, producer at Méroé films, told of her experience producing the film Man without a cell phone by Palestinian filmmaker SamehZoabi, a tragi-comedy which brought home the Golden Antigone at this 33rd Montpellier Cinémed. It is a co-production between France/Palestine/Belgium/Israel which at the start did not manage to get access to the Southern Fund, since the filmmaker was an Israelian Arab (Israel is not an eligible country). The money was finally granted, also from the Gan Foundation and the Rabinovich Film Fund, from the Belgian « Taxshelter », from the Dubai Film Council and the Doha Film Institute. « The film’s budget rose to 1 Million € but the most significant contribution came from the Franco-Belgian bloc. The role of the producer is essential for a co-production between 4 countries, each with their own rules, and for organising teams which were Palestinian, Israelian, French ! », concluded Marie Gutman.
Two contributions from the Jordanian and Moroccan films commissions allow two contrasting pictures of the Southern counterpart to emerge.
Deema Azar from the Jordan Royal Film Commission, presented the institution’s mission : supporting local production, promoting film culture, training in film-related jobs, and explained the different grant plans in place for production and co-production with Jordan. The writing project «RawiScreenwriters’ Lab» is aimed at Arab screenwriters , and the «Med Film Factory» project, funded by the EuroMed Audiovisual Programme, encourages regional co-production. As for direct financial grants, these are ensured by the Jordan Film Fund which targets the development of local production with a contribution of about 50000 € per film and, at the same time, creating local employment. Small balck spot in this country: film production is almost inexistent and the few productions from the 1950s are gathering dust somwhere in the national archives… There are no projects for conservation or promotion of national heritage for the moment but clearly Jordan wants to move forwards.
As for Morocco, the remark from Abdessadek El Alem, secretary general of the Great Ouarzazate Foundation for sustainable development is at the same time optimistic and frightening : Ouarzazate alone hosted 140 film shootings over the last 5 years, especially American productions, for an investment of 250 M€… but the country’s cinemas have gone from 300 to 200, although a project run by the Centre of Moroccan cinema is due to create local cinemas, including in Ouarzazate. Because productions and co-productions cannot do without a film’s main destination : film theatres.
There was no time to discuss in greater depth the sensitive subject of distribution of Southern films, which makes permanent tools of information and monitoring of Mediterranean film all the more important… But one logical conclusion from Valerio Caruso, who quoted Guédiguian : « Going to the cinema is an act of resistance. »