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INDUSTRY / MARKET Sweden / Europe

“To sleep or not to sleep with the enemy?” That is the question asked by Film i Väst’s new report on public film funding


- The study identifies the main challenges affecting public film funding, but also provides a series of recommendations to guide the actions of industry players and policy makers

“To sleep or not to sleep with the enemy?” That is the question asked by Film i Väst’s new report on public film funding

This week, Sweden’s Film i Väst published a groundbreaking study titled Public Film Funding at a Crossroads. The report, authored by Tomas Eskilsson, comes at a time during which film policy and its current practices in Europe risk becoming obsolete and digitalisation has brought about radical changes in the physical methods through which films are made, circulate and are consumed, triggering an identity crisis for many media, including film.

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The main purpose of this piece of research is “to lay the foundations for a European-wide discussion and debate regarding the objectives, arguments, tasks and methods of public film funding”. It is based on more than 700 interviews (conducted in 2021) with key representatives in public film funding, film and drama series production, game development, distribution, marketing, exhibition, streaming and broadcasting, with additional input provided by around 3,500 participants who took part in a number of dialogue seminars and workshops organised by the Swedish body.

Before moving on to the challenges and possible solutions, the report outlines some key projections for the next three to four years. Some of these include “falling cinema attendance in the Western world, but with a stable or increasing box office [a 25% decline in cinema attendance figures up to 2025]”, with increased ticket prices and cosier, more thrilling “visitor experiences”; the transfer of viewing from big screens to small screens; the sector’s “continued consolidation and concentration, and increased competition, between giants”; and “the gold rush in content production lasting until at least 2026”.

The first question that policy makers must answer, the report argues, is “whether they want a film-funding policy or an audiovisual-funding policy”. In particular, for the implementation of an audiovisual policy, the recommendation is “to realise that the defined political area does not mean that the development and production of all expressions/formats need public funding”, and thus “priorities must be established”. It also urges “the old world [to] continue providing funding for and give priority to cinema film and large-scale, shared experiences”, and, more broadly, “considerably larger funding/investment should be put into fewer projects”.

One of the challenges that public film funding must face is also the “lack of relevant, up-to-date know-how and expertise”, and therefore “restructuring and personnel overhauls might be necessary” with most of the private respondents looking for “overall holistic knowledge, intellectual mobility and an analytical ability that can deal with broad contexts, rather than individual aspects”.

In response to the presence of fragmented financing models, the private respondents wish to see public film agencies “working faster and more predictably, and/or creating predictability through co-operations, public/public or public/private partnerships”. They also hope to see “de-bureaucratisation, stronger dialogue and greater speed in decision-making”, which are considered crucial aspects in order for the agencies to retain their attractiveness.

On the hot topic of windowing and cinema exclusivity, the analysis clearly shows that respondents see only two windows for cinema films in the future: movie theatres and streaming. The latter can be split into several segments – TVoD, SVoD/AVoD and AVoD/BVoD/FVoD – which may not necessarily come in a logical order. One possible interpretation of the interviewees’ wishes is that public film agencies should follow “a more holistic and analytical attitude if they are to play a better, more active role in reforming the window structure”.

Commenting on the relationship between IPs and independent producers, the respondents consider it “relatively pointless to link the definition of independence to whether a production company is owned by, or entirely dependent on, a broadcaster” and suggest focusing on “whether the operation is owned, controlled by or decisively dependent on a streaming service instead”. Such a choice, however, would open up another important dilemma: which independent outfits will be eligible to apply for projects from selective and automatic public funders? Another option would be to focus on European and national ownership of the project, but this is also perceived as a “risky proposition” leading to short-sighted solutions.

Finally, the report delves into the question of whether “to sleep with the enemy” (namely, the global, US-owned streaming services). The study advises public film agencies to be open “to being involved in one-off, high-quality projects”, but they should not develop “organised, long-term collaborations with them regarding production”. This would lead them to inevitably become “useful idiots and losers”, as “the inequality in resources and real power will not play out in their favour”.

You can access the full document here.

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