A European Parliament report on cinema in the digital era has called for better cooperation with countries of the South Mediterranean, sparking hopes among the sector’s professionals of more European support for creative cinema from the region.
The report, yet to be reviewed by the European Commission, “proposes better cooperation and interaction with third countries aimed at raising the profile of European productions on the world market, and particularly in the Mediterranean area, promoting cultural exchanges and launching new initiatives in support of ... Euro-Mediterranean dialogue and ... democratic development of the whole region, not least in view of the commitments arising from the Euro-Mediterranean Conference on Cinema,” held in Athens in 2008 between ministers of culture from the Euro-Mediterranean.
“I think it will be a great action,” said Jad Abi-Khalil, from DocMed, a Euromed Audiovisuel III programme to train documentary producers across the Arab Mediterranean. “What we really need is Euromed Audiovisual again and again to support countries in the Arab Mediterranean. If we talk about liberty of expression and creative cinema that can talk to the EU, then Arab countries are not supported enough in the Arab world. In all Mediterranean Arab countries, there are not enough funds to support culture in general and cinema in particular... Almost all films are co-produced with European countries, and this is very important.”
The Lebanese producer stressed that Arab film is very important for Europe to understand what is happening in the Arab world, the mentality, culture, and religion.
Beyond increased cooperation with the Mediterranean, the report that he commented on mainly focused on cinema inside the European Union, also called on EU member states and the Commission to financially support the full digitisation of EU cinemas as quickly as possible, to improve European film circulation in a competitive global audiovisual sector. It especially urged the Commission to support small cinemas to go digital, as they typically preserve European cultural heritage by showing more European films but do not have the budget for this expensive change.
Of the 30,000 screens in the EU, most of which are in small cinemas with just one or two screens, over 21, 000 still didn’t have digital projectors in 2010, according to data from the European Audiovisual Observatory.
The European Parliament report also recommended ISO standardisation in production, distribution, and film screening in the EU, and suggested pan-European licensing to encourage online European film distribution, notably through Video On Demand (VOD). It urged EU members states to properly enforce intellectual property rights to avoid copyright fraud and illegal downloading.
One billion cinema tickets were sold in the EU in 2010 with European films accounting for 27 per cent of the market and European cinema as it provides more than 30 000 jobs, according the European Parliament document. In 2010, there were 1,203 films made in Europe, compared with 754 in the United States. But audiences were uneven across the continent, with 16,102 people per screen in the Western Europe compared with 40,750 in Central and Eastern Europe.
In the Southern Mediterranean, such figures will be collected as part of a new project recently launched by the Euromed Audiovisual Programme III with the European Audiovisual Observatory to collect data about the cinema and audiovisual sectors in Algeria, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Syria, the Palestine, and Tunisia.
In Egypt however, a country with the most cinemas in the region, 85 million people have less than 300 cinemas, according to Egyptian director and producer Karim Gamal El Din, and financing in the audiovisual sector especially goes to television. “We will probably have 17 films in 2011, much less than the 98 films produced in 1989, our most recent best year, and a far cry from the era in which Egypt was Arab cinema,” he told cineeuropa.org last week in Tunis.
It is left to see whether more support from the European Union and cooperation with the European audiovisual field, in Egypt and the rest of the South Mediterranean, will contribute to changing this.