Henning Camre • President of Think Tank
by Annika Pham
Henning Camre, who has been CEO of the Danish Film Institute for the last nine years, is leaving the organisation this July to head the Think Tank on European Film and Film Policy. On the eve of his departure, the man who played a crucial role in reforming the Danish film industry and making it one of the best models in Europe has given out some of his secrets to Cineuropa.
Cineuropa: How did you make the move from running film schools (in Denmark and in the UK) to running the Danish Film Institute?
Henning Camre: After 17 years at the Danish Film School (1975 to 1992), I spent six years at the National Film and Television School in the UK. I had no real plan to go back to Denmark, but I was asked to come back to set up a new Film Institute. In 1997, a new law was passed that amalgamated all film organisations – the way it now seems to be happening in Norway.
I would never have conceived going back to the ‘old’ Danish institutions, but I could see that with one film institute, you could create ONE film policy that could cover all the various areas of promoting film culture and filmmaking. From my point of view, it was essential to keep the food chain together and balance the priorities between the various areas.
An important part which influenced my decision was that what we had been fighting for during 17 years at the Danish Film School, now finally started to become a reality. In the industry, some of my former students were now running the show, and I thought if I could get the other part of the system – the public policy - to work then it would all make sense.
How did you go about applying your vision to the new Danish Film Institute?
The first thing was to create a master plan for the whole Institute. I was lucky because the government supported me. I started in January 1998 and by September, the Institute’s budget had risen by 75% (an additional DKK 450 million), based on a 4-year agreement.
For me, it was not enough for a public institute just to distribute money. An institute can actually add value to a project. Very few production companies are big enough to have all the necessary competences to actually develop projects properly, so they become dependent on just having something in production. They think that by keeping on producing, things will turn out OK. But there are no miracles. At the DFI, the people we have actually come from the industry, they have an eye for what works or not, within a budget. Everything is carefully thought through. In that sense we have managed to help the industry become more professional.
Also, we’ve managed to reduce the DFI’s average support from more than 60% ten years ago to 38%. So there is more responsibility and risk taking on the side of the producers. The real question for Denmark and the whole of Europe is: how good is a film that is capable of attracting public funding but not capable of attracting an audience?
Is this one of the ideas that you want discussed within the Think Tank on European Film and Film Policy?
I think public institutions and the industry should be courageous enough to ask all the difficult questions like this. There is a general belief that it’s a ‘human’s right to have public support, but I’m not so sure. I think the level of subsidies in many European countries is ridiculously high.
The problem is that there are not enough European countries with a film production that has got an identity that make them attractive to the outside world. The support systems differ enormously, which doesn’t help collaboration. I don’t think there is one best system for everybody because all countries are different in size and so forth, but I do not believe there are 27 best systems. And that’s the way it looks like now. We should look at the best practices in the EU, with the lessons to be learnt.
How is the Think Tank set up and who will run it?
We are setting it up as an organisation independent from the DFI, as a European organisation. The basic financing is secured by the new Film Agreement in Denmark. But for the local seminars, workshops and so on, each country would have to raise the finance.
The founding board consists of Veronique Cayla (CNC), Fernando Lara (ICAA), John Woodward (UK Film Council), Agnieszka Odorowicz from the Polish Film Institute, Anders Geertsen from the DFI, Peter Aalbæk and myself.
The important thing is that although it is initiated by me, the Think Tank is not just a Danish initiative but a real European initiative. We’re aiming at setting up Think Tank events that may have an impact on how European countries set up their own support systems and try to avoid mistakes. We’re also creating links with US independent cinema (Sundance) and planning various events with them.
It will be a unique collaboration between the industry and the public institutes where we will try to take our destiny into our own hands.