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Is Brexit the wake-up call UK and European film needs?

The panel at Dream Industry Day, 28 January 2019, Paris
The panel at Dream Industry Day, 28 January 2019, Paris Rosslyn Hyams/RFI

As the 29 March 2019 Brexit deadline looms, the future of cultural ties between the UK and the member-countries of the European Union is uncertain.Carol Comley, head of Film Policy at the British Film Industry said at a convention in Paris this week pointed out: "Often you don't know how important things are until you are about to lose them."


At an annual one-day cinema industry meeting in Paris this week, players and observers from the French and British film sector considered the potential effects of Brexit on their ability to cooperate and on procedures involved in cross-border film-making.

Re-thinking culture relations

Spokespeople for the French government Centre National Cinématographique et d'Animation (CNC) or the British equivalent, The British Film Institute (BFI) noted that Brexit is providing an opportunity for a re-think of Britain's culture relations with the European Union. .

Carol Comley is head of Film Policy at the BFI, which aims to promote consumption and production of quality films and audio-visual creation for the UK.

"In terms of coproduction, very, very many things may change for audio-visual as a consequence of Brexit depending on how Brexit is resolved," she said.

She added that at least one key European co-production legal tool will remain.

"Because the UK is one of the signatories to the Council of Europe's Coproduction Convention, our very clear understanding from government is that there will be no change to those conventions. As a consequence, there should be nothing, big picture-wise, that stands in the way of there being more co-production in the future."

France cinema production and distribution will likely be less affected overall by Brexit than in Ireland, for example, as Franco-British coproductions are notable for their quality rather than quantity.

"For obvious reasons to do with the proximity of the market and the shared language. The Republic of Ireland is going to be one place that is going to be super sensitive to Brexit."

Brexit and production

Production companies look at the Brexit situation from a different angle. Creation and art, especially feature films, employ legions of people from make-up to design to electricians to writers to camera people, to editors, to accountants, all sorts of audiovisual experts... and bottom lines are make or break.

Gabrielle Tana, producer of 'The White Crow', a UK-France-Serbia co-production, Paris, 29 January 2019
Gabrielle Tana, producer of 'The White Crow', a UK-France-Serbia co-production, Paris, 29 January 2019 Rosslyn Hyams/RFI

Gabrielle Tana's Baby Cow and Magnolia Mae productions have produced such successes as Philomena directed by Stephen Frears and starring Judi Dench, and Saul Dibb's The Duchess starring Keira Knightly, a 2008 Franco-British co-production.

Her company's latest production is The White Crow, directed byRalph Fiennes, a biopic about late ballet dancer Rudolf Nureyev's defection to the West from the Soviet Union. It was shot in Paris and in Serbia as well in Russia.

Tana says: "We shot this film in France after the referendum had happened. It didn't actually affect the working situation at all. But if anything we already felt quite nostalgic then and there for what it means to actually work together and be part of Europe.

"The main concerns are sociological rather than financial she says, as tax incentives for filming exist everywhere."

"My concern is xenophobia, that it creates barriers where there shouldn't be. We should be able to work together as a community."

Financial implications

Bertrand Faivre heads a French-British set-up called The Bureau with offices in France and in the UK. In the current context, he's both cautious and pragmatic.

"I have produced a lot of British films and a lot of French films, not a lot of coproductions because the two systems are not exactly compatible, it's a bit tricky and for sure Brexit won't help. What I think Brexit will affect mostly is circulation of people, ideas and films. That's why I'm more concerned than the making of films."

Financially, the picture is foggy.

"I have no idea if it will affect us financially. But yes there's some support from Média [the European Union support programme] for development and circulation of British films in Europe, the programme runs till 2020, so yes that will mean a financial impact."

Brexit will have an impact on Faivre's life as well as his work after regular Eurostar commutes for 20 years.

"I've been happily accepting the toll on my personal life because of the opportunities and the people I was working with in the UK. I will keep this desire which has been reinforced by Brexit actually, but technically and financially it will be more and more difficult to keep this going the same way as I have been doing for 20 years."

Emmanuel Schlumberger is a French independent producer who has worked in European film production from France for a chunk of his career. He's one of the founders of the Industrie du Rêve - the Dream Industry Day held in Paris since 2000.

His view is that the key to co-production and bilateral exchange is film talent. That resource he says, will always be there, always on demand, and always sufficiently mobile.

"Brexit will not have a lot of effect on Franco-British co-production. If you take for example Ken Loach who is very attractive for the French audience, Brexit or not, he will always find distributors or producers in France willing to work with him.

"Talent is the first thing, after that you can have more or less incentive to produce film, but if you have talent that is recognised in France, one way or another there will be coproduction."

The British government, via tax breaks and other methods, allocates some 200 million euros. Comley suggests that the tax shelters would be reviewed if there's a Hard Brexit, and that the debates and questions raised by Brexit could lead to the government, the BFI and professionals finding ways of divvying up the funds in new, encouraging ways.


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