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Paul Pauwels • Director, European Documentary Network

"The voice of documentary professionals must also be heard in Brussels"

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- European Documentary Network director Paul Pauwels talks to us about EDN's recent meetings with EU policy makers to secure funding for the documentary sector in the future

Paul Pauwels  • Director, European Documentary Network

The European Documentary Network (EDN) is increasingly present in places where EU policymaking takes place. And there's a good reason for that - with traditional business models having come under threat over the past few years and decades, now more than ever, the documentary sector is in need of support structures that ensure its survival and its continued output of high-quality documentary films. There's also a political dimension to the documentary genre, since cultural, societal and democratic values are inherently connected to documentaries. These obviously constitute a much-needed counterweight to a media industry dominated by commercial show formats and fiction films. As part of EDN's Media and Society initiative, a major survey aimed at investigating the state of documentary filmmaking in Europe, EDN director Paul Pauwels has met EU policy makers on different occasions over the past few weeks in order to talk about the future needs of documentary professionals.

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Cineuropa: You recently met with officials from the European Parliament and the Creative Europe programme. What was being discussed and how was it perceived?
Paul Pauwels: We met with Petra Kammerevert, MEP and chair of the Culture Committee of the European Parliament, and presented our Media and Society initiative. It's important to emphasise that this initiative included a survey that provided us with facts and figures regarding the state of the European documentary landscape. Such data are quite helpful when talking to politicians about potential funding options. General complaints and pointers won't impress anybody at the EU level, but statistics on the financial situation of filmmakers, broadcasters, distributors and others in the documentary field make for a strong argument. The meeting was attended by representatives of the European Broadcasting Union and the Creative Europe Media Unit. It was important for us to outline the objectives of the initiative, and we used the occasion to once again argue for policy measures that would safeguard the independence of the European documentary sector, emphasising the importance of small and medium-sized companies. One could say that the meeting mainly served the purpose of putting the documentary sector "on the map" of EU policy makers. 

The Creative Europe programme has been quintessential in terms of developing the European audiovisual sector. How does EDN see its continuation and evolution in the years to come?
The importance of the Creative Europe programme cannot be overestimated. We're actively involved in defining the framework of the new programme, which is planned for the period 2021-2027. At a Creative Europe stakeholder meeting in Brussels last week, we suggested that the future programme should become even more comprehensive than it currently is. This may sound a bit naive at first, but considering the small percentage that Creative Europe represents in the overall EU budget, there seems to be some realistic leeway for an increase. But this is just one of the more general ideas we're promoting in order to improve the situation of the documentary sector in Europe. As a result of the meeting, and to further strengthen the voice of documentary professionals in Brussels, we have published a detailed position paper on our website.

What does EDN's position paper state, in a nutshell?
We primarily argue that the new Creative Europe programme will require a financial boost in order to strengthen its role as a forerunner of building a strong and diverse European audiovisual community. But we also stress that the divide between the MEDIA and Culture sub-programmes creates an additional barrier that should be removed. Making these funds available to initiatives in the audiovisual sector would greatly increase the impact that the programme has on the creative industry in Europe. Furthermore, we believe that the main recipients of support should be independent entities and not public broadcasters, telecom operators, OTT companies, cable operators or similar platforms. Collaborations with the latter should be encouraged, but the beneficiaries should be independent entities.

A separate focus of the paper are online initiatives, such as European video-on-demand operators: of course, we welcome the evolution and development of a network of SVoD providers, but the business models underlying their operations should respect the rights of content creators and refrain from harming the interests of the independent partners who are an essential part of the value chain (such as producers, sales agents and distributors).

Apart from that, our position paper also underlines the important role that the Creative Europe programme has been playing over the years, with its clear determination to nurture talents and skills in order to stimulate collaboration and innovation in the European audiovisual landscape. Let's not forget that Creative Europe is a great success story, and has been up to this very day. However, a lot remains to be done in order to strengthen the documentary sector in future, but the new Creative Europe programme could make a big difference in this regard. In the end, it all comes down to the fact that the voice of documentary professionals must also be heard in Brussels. That's where decisions about the future of entire industries are taken. To that end, EDN is increasingly and actively strengthening the genre at the centre of European policymaking.

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