Hollywood’s global scenario may have to undergo a rewrite as a result of Donald Trump’s travel ban and other initiatives. That’s the issue top industry players are debating this week as they study overseas reaction to policies of the new Trump administration. Not only are individual projects being reviewed, but so are major funding initiatives. Having decided to focus on the global audience, Hollywood must now study that audience’s changing tastes and political reactions.
On one level, buyers and sellers heading for the Berlin Film Festival next week are expressing concern about the changing climate. Strath Hamilton, a veteran of Berlinale and other markets, fears that “American independent films will suffer in the market place as a result of resentment of Trump policies – a radical and disturbing turn of events.” Australian born and American based, Hamilton’s TriCoast Entertainment has long been a player in the global markets.
David Linde, CEO of Participant Media and a former head of Universal, shares concerns about the changing marketplace. Participant’s role is relevant since it has backed features and documentaries on climate change as well as activist programs to support the messages of its films (including Spotlight and An Inconvenient Truth).
Veterans of the markets will carefully watch Berlin as presaging problems that may face the American Film Market, which may also be impacted by travel restrictions and political cross-currents. These problems already are manifesting themselves at the Oscars with the decision of Asghar Farhadi, the Iranian director, to cancel his appearance at the February 26 ceremony.
Farhadi, who directed Foreign Language Film nominee The Salesman, had planned to use the Oscars as an occasion to protest the “unjust travel ban.” He concluded, however, that revisions had forced even further problems. Ironically, his films contain a subtext critical of Iran’s censorship policies.
The Farhadi cancellation may foreshadow developments across pop culture, according to many leaders. Thomas P. Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, believes scholarly exchanges and collaborations are being threatened “at a time when the world needs more, not less, exchange and mutual understanding.” The theater world also has been affected: A new production of Hamlet in New York was canceled last week because a cast member was stranded abroad. The Miami Film Festival last week lost its premiere of a Kurdish film, Reseba: The Dark Wind, because its director Hussein Hassan withdrew his visa application in protest.
“It shatters my heart,” Philip Himberg, artistic director of the Sundance Institute, told the New York Times, after learning that workshop professionals from the Middle East would face visa restrictions. Programs for Arabic language professionals would be the first to suffer, he said.
Trump’s policies have elicited official denunciations from Hollywood’s professional groups, including SAG and the Academy. Chris Dodd of the MPAA registered his critique as did the CEOs of Apple and Netflix.
By contrast, Trump’s initiatives have stirred varying reaction from the Murdoch clan. Rupert Murdoch is a Trump backer, but the Wall Street Journal editorially warned Trump last week that “political disruption has its uses but not if it consumes your presidency in the process.” Murdoch’s sons, James and Lachlan, released lame statements hailing the contributions of immigrants but avoiding criticism of the President. By contrast, Arnold Schwarzenegger, who succeeded Trump on his TV show Celebrity Apprentice, said that Trump policies “made us look stupid.”
On a micro level, several studio executives acknowledged they were reviewing future projects with an eye on political subtext. One cited the February 3 release of Renegades as an example of the sort of film that would come under review. The movie tells the story of heroic American SEALs who help their Euro compatriots by digging up long lost Nazi treasure. “Do European filmgoers want to see a movie about American heroes saving the ass of Europeans?” asks one executive.
Ironically, Renegades is a French-German co-production funded by EuropaCorp. It will be released in the U.S. by STX Entertainment.