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"We have to avoid falling into a purely market-orientated logic"

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Mathieu Debusschère • General delegate, ARP

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- Mathieu Debusschère, general delegate of the ARP, which organises the Film Meetings in Dijon, breaks down the challenges of an ever-changing industry

Mathieu Debusschère  • General delegate, ARP

We met up with Mathieu Debusschère, the new general delegate of the ARP (Civil Society of Writers-Directors-Producers), a few days ahead of the 27th Film Meetings, which will unspool in Dijon from 12-14 October.

Cineuropa: How must the French film industry adapt, given the overarching context of dramatic transformations?
Mathieu Debusschère
: We certainly don’t want to deny that there are some major developments in the sector – ie, digitisation, and the arrival of international platforms and new funding channels in independent cinema. But we want to put these topics on the table and reflect on how and why the Chinese, the Americans, the platforms and the telecoms operators are starting to invest, or increase their investment, in film, look at the questions that raises for auteurs, directors and producers, and therefore also examine how best to regulate these new funding methods so that there will still be a shred of diversity.

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We realise that the French system, revolving around audiovisual players pre-financing cinema, is beginning to go round in circles to a certain extent. Our aim is not to put a stop to it, but rather to pre-empt the end of the terrestrial era, which today offers the chance for audiovisual operators to broadcast works without necessarily having to use a frequency as a vehicle, and this raises a lot of questions in terms of regulation. We have to ask ourselves these questions to avoid falling into a purely market-orientated logic and to allow films that would not otherwise exist in this purely market-orientated logic to exist, be pre-financed and be exhibited. But the way people gain access to works has changed completely, particularly among the younger generations, which over-consume via on-demand practices. We have to find out whether the players that are capitalising on these new practices are actually funding creation and all its diversity, and whether these platforms genuinely enhance the works’ visibility – particularly the most delicate or difficult ones.

The Minister of Culture has given French professionals six months to reach an agreement over a development in media chronology and distribution windows. Can these negotiations come to a successful conclusion?
We would be delighted to finally sign an agreement that would overcome the logic that dictates that every single player in the sector must defend its own interests without thinking about the greater good, or thinking about the philosophy behind our system. The media chronology, comprising theatrical windows, VoD, pay-TV, free channels and SvoD, is there to facilitate access to works for every single viewer. The aim is to turn a frustration – that is, not having access to a particular work or having to pay to access it – into an actual purchase, which will generate funding to boost variety in film. Today, we are creating this frustration, but we are not solving it, because there is simply no continuity in terms of the exhibition of works, which then encourages piracy.

What about the operators that base themselves abroad, such as Netflix in the Netherlands and Altice in Luxembourg, in order not to be subject to the French legal framework?
One element is set to change, next year we hope, with the review of the Audiovisual Media Services ("Services des Médias Audiovisuels”, SMA) directive, which will be transposed into national law. This new directive will enforce a 30% quota for European works on the platforms, but it will also, and above all, enforce the country-of-destination principle for contributions to creation. And so the logic of setting up in a country that is more advantageous in terms of taxation, such as Luxembourg or the Netherlands, and not financing creation, while still enjoying all the benefits of having French subscribers, will no longer be possible. Nevertheless, it is up to us to build a positive system in which these new players, which will in any case have obligations in accordance with the SMA directive, are offered an attractive media chronology with an advantageous release window if they agree to commit to French cinema. We are very much open to discussion, but we can’t just bulldoze everything that makes our regulation system strong. The current media chronology is completely out of touch with customs, and it has become a spectre looming over those operators that wish to finance French cinema. Nonetheless, let’s not go to the other extreme by having a complete free-for-all of a system that would allow those players that don’t provide any funding for diversity to have an overly advantageous release window.

(Translated from French)

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