Cultural diversity or cinematic Darwinism
by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
28/06/2012 - On April 23, a decree set up the Aide aux cinémas du monde (lit. "Aid to World Cinema"), bringing together Fonds Sud and the Aide aux films en langue étrangère (lit. "Aid to Films in a Foreign Language"). Until then, each had had their own specialty. Fonds Sud provided significant support to films from Southern countries (Africa, Latin America, Asia, and some countries in Eastern Europe), while Aide aux films en langue étrangère focused on European films. To replace Fonds Sud, which provided aid to auteur filmmakers and cinematic creation, we now have a new programme "dedicated to international co-productions". It's an unprecedented change in French policy on aid to the development of world cinema.
I have no doubt that good intentions were behind creating the Aide aux cinémas du monde. Its primary objective is to support the entire world's filmmakers. This is a good thing. But, in this new configuration, exactly how much aid will filmmakers from the South actually receive? According to the texts, beneficiaries can receive an amount equivalent to up to 50% or 80%, depending on each case, of the French share in a project. In other words, the more a project has French support (French producer's share, distributor and sales agent guaranteed minimum, French television...), the greater the aid it will receive. But small productions, with less significant French participation, will be penalised... This was not the case with Fonds Sud. It granted support without regard to the French share in a project, and was even considered to a be a label of good quality by many professionals so that the project could access other sources of funding. The Aide aux cinémas du monde will now privilege projects that already have considerable French backing. It is a sort of bonus for films that are already well financed. Yet, it is well known that mostly fragile films don't have a French distributor and sales agent guaranteed minimum, and that they very rarely, if at all, receive support from French television. Which all means that their French co-producer's small share will only bring them very little. It is clear that this new system signals an end to the development of unique, brave voices from Southern countries, and an end to a certain fairness. Most projects from the South will receive less support than films from the North, which are largely already supported in their respective countries or by European funds...
For over 25 years, Fonds Sud has enabled independent filmmakers from countries with fragile, even non-existing, film sectors to be discovered or supported along their way. Of these auteur filmmakers, some have become major voices in their countries and the world such as Souleymane Cissé, Rithy Panh, Lucrecia Martel, Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Aida Beijic, Merzak Allouache, Pablo Trapero, and Moufida Tlatli. This year, seven films funded by Fonds Sud went to Cannes, including Post Tenebras Lux by Carlos Reygadas. In total, over 500 films have been supported by this mechanism that has broadly contributed to France's cultural reputation abroad.
It is essential that this new system be re-examined and made fairer, taking into account the cinematic reality of all the countries to which its aid is intended. Otherwise, numerous fragile film sectors are destined to disappear. And the cultural diversity that France is so proud of will be replaced by cinematic Darwinism...
Mahamat-Saleh Haroun is a Chadian director awarded at Cannes in 2010 for A Screaming Man.
(Translated from French)