The French model of cinema
In 2014, 258 movies - 50 of which are first works - produced in France were watched by a total of 208 million viewers. These unprecedented numbers in Europe place France 4th in film production, behind India, China and the United States.
This vitality is the result of a steady public policy that took into account two fundamental rules of filmmaking: its industrial character and the distinction of its cultural action, thus reflecting the popular aspiration to have it recognized as the "seventh art". This one-of-a-kind French model has a long history; it developed over time, step by step, with its merits, but also its limits. Hence the importance of capturing the spirit of the French history of public policy for the cinema which certainly made it stand out, and gave it a definitive place in the history of world cinema. However, what about now?
The cinema culture
Three noteworthy interrelated events influenced the birth of the French model. They are in no way economic, but rather cultural. The first is the establishment of film clubs in the 20s (formalized by the state in 1949), under the leadership of Louis Delluc, the father of movie critics, who invented cinephilia. This approach builds a culture of film, from speeches to debates about movies, i.e. a social practice. The originality of this "French particularity" will be crucial in building procedures for public film funding. The continuation of this path will give birth in 1955 to the French association of art house cinemas (AFCAE), which, on the initiative of operators and critics, will include independent movie theaters (over 1,000 today; an unparalleled number worldwide).
The French Cinémathèque
The second event is the creation of the French Cinémathèque in Paris, int he late 30s. Its main organizer Henri Langlois made this institution into a kind of training school and a place of reflection on cinema; an instrument of truth that will feed generations of filmmakers, critics, historians and theorists. It was he who, inseminating Malraux’s "dream" of turning filmmaking into an art, championed the campaign for film preservation, constituting therefore a film heritage. France will thus be the first country to preserve American cinema.
The last factor of development of the French model is the success of magazines published in the 50s and their influence. Les Cahiers du Cinéma and Positif promote an art house cinema; a new term, which will not only be the crucible of the New Wave, but also the ferment of the famous “politique des auteurs” (author policy) of the 60s for movie independence. This typical French film criticism also influenced the university education.
A ministry in charge of cultural affairs
This ministry is born in February 1959 with André Malraux at its head. He unites the Cinema National Center (CNC), arts and literature, and cultural action. Through this gathering, Malraux tells economic actors of the sector that cultural and artistic orientations will now prevail and that the French Government officially recognizes the cinema as an art. In order for this industry to function well and be sustainable, the minister creates the Special Additional Tax (TSA), still applicable today and which represents 10.72% of the price of a cinema ticket.
This tax system that the United States tries to eliminate through treaties that define commercial agreements, allows the support of all the cinema industry’s chain (movie production and distribution, restoration, archiving, renovation of theaters and movie equipment, cinema education).
In 1959, through the signature of two decrees, Malraux creates one of the support funds’ centerpieces, The Advance on revenues. This aid is selective to projects that have met the quality criteria and is a strong signal towards more artistic movies. Destined at first for the encouragement of cinematography creation, it becomes a few decades later the most symbolic device of the cultural exception. It would be interesting to look into the criteria that preside over movies selections that benefit from this Advance on revenues.
The cultural exception
This auto-financing system of the cinema industry was developed in France during the last sixty years and has allowed an independent production to stay afloat in France (network of theaters Art et Essai, the Groupement National des Cinémas de Recherche) as well as on the European level (support system to coproduction, distribution aids, Fonds Sud Cinéma, etc.). The notion of cultural exception appeared when the GATT agreements in 1993 (that became later on the World Trade Organization) wanted to establish through a convention “a liberal and multilateral code of good conduct”. The GATT (General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade), actualized by the recent TAFTA (Transatlantic Free Trade Agrement) and has as prime objective the freedom of trade through “lessening customs rights and reducing quantitative or qualitative restrictions to trade”. To accept these agreements would result in the dismantling of support mechanisms to the national cinema and audiovisual industries. Thanks to the mobilization of numerous culture stakeholders and under the cultural exception banner, France was able to maintain its cinema support system.
Cinema | Television: love till death
What constitutes French cinema value is its strong resistance to the American supremacy and its support of minority cinematography, underpinned by an unbreakable will to defend its specificities. This has been basically going on since its creation. Television weight in the movie production system, doubled with marketing laws, generates great imbalances and profound inequalities related to the works diffusion. It is more and more frequent to witness “predestined” productions a future televised diffusion with the effect “telefilms for big screens”. The chains encourage costly filming, the movie’s success depends more on its advertising than on its artistic and thematic qualities. Hasn’t this production system that is conditional to television lead the cinema in a standardization logic, encouraging a cinema without intervention? Isn’t an economically efficient cinema that history does not hold what am up to par public policy should choose to bend?
Digital for all
The all-digital constitutes a menace whereby most actors depend on some “majors”. They will soon order the replacement of current diffusion systems by the laser quality that should always enhance projection. A new law will be necessary in order to help the operators, particularly the small and medium ones who do not possess negotiation powers in big circuits. The land of movie-loving and cultural exception will have to display some imagination in order to preserve its integrity and freedom of creation.