François Hollande bested incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy on Sunday to become France’s first Socialist president since François Mitterrand. Hollande will be inaugurated by mid-next week, just in time for the opening of the Cannes Film Festival, where there’s certain to be discussion about what his ascension will mean for the business. Issues like anti-piracy legislation, runaway production and who’ll be the next culture minister are likely topics, but for now, execs I’ve spoken with don’t seem too concerned. Pyramide Distribution’s Eric Lagesse tells me, “No one is expecting a big impact.”
Patrick Lamassoure of FilmFrance, the body that promotes France as a filming location, echoes that to a degree, saying, “France has always had a strong film policy whether it’s the left or the right in power.” That’s true. France has one of the most generous subsidy systems in the world with a national cinema center that boasts a 750M euro budget with roughly 230M euros earmarked as selective state aid in 2011. By law (one decided when Mitterrand was president), broadcasters are also required to invest in local and European film production with Canal Plus, for example, ponying up 182.5M euros last year. In TV programming, 4,830 hours received state funding in 2011.
France Televisions, the state-owned holding company that houses several public broadcasters, is unlikely to be affected, sources tell me. The group recently shuffled its managerial decks from inside, leading one former employee to speculate, “They wanted to avoid having a nomination imposed on them after the election. … If Hollande came in and changed things, he’d come off like a dictator.”
Neither dictator nor standout for the moment — he calls himself a “normal man” — Hollande hasn’t made much of his policies towards the business of film and TV. In a March article in Le Monde, however, he noted that the left “has always supported artistic creation and creators.” But the article was mostly focused on Hadopi, France’s controversial gradual-response anti-piracy legislation, which he said would be revisited. “We have to put all the players around a table. I’m thinking of dialogue, consultation and compromise…and from this dialogue what I call Act II of the cultural exception will be born.” Those are some hi-falutin’ words for a man that some see as ineffectual. The cultural exception is a très French concept introduced in 1993 that treats culture differently than other commercial products.
Interestingly, as Nicolas Brigaud-Robert, co-founder of international sales company Films Distribution, points out, “The word culture was never even uttered during the campaign or debate. So, I’m not very optimistic about a general change in public policy towards cinema.” He’d like to see more of the culture budget flowing to exporters. The exec maintains that when it comes to promoting French culture abroad, “what we do best in this country is exporting movies and never has any government taken any interest in this small niche and that’s too bad.” There is a small amount of aid available at the CNC for international sales, but Brigaud-Robert contends that because film is a volatile good that promotes France to the world — unlike, say, a non-volatile Hermès bag — consideration should be given to the risk that French exporters face. He also points to a drop in commissions as an economic indicator of the current respect given to the sector. “I’ve explained to the CNC that when they give (subsidies) and they say to a producer, ‘You can find an exporter but you can’t charge us back their commission if it’s above 15%,’ they’re killing the industry.” This is an issue to watch.
Runaway production is another problem that’s having an effect on the industry. Plenty of foreign films have come to shoot in France recently, taking advantage of the tax credit for international productions. But French producers have increasingly been opting for neighboring countries like Belgium and Luxembourg. So, it’s likely there will be lobbying for an increase on the French production tax credit’s 1M euro cap as well as making it more compatible for co-productions and extending its 20% rebate to cover more kinds of spend. Nothing will move on that, though, until the new National Assembly is minted after legislative elections in June.
One thing that will probably change sooner is that current culture and communications minister Frédéric Mitterrand — nephew of the late president — will be replaced. One person tells me a recent speech he made sounded like a farewell address.