The world cinema is constantly experiencing new developments and transformations. Thanks to the introduction of new technologies, not only film production, but also film screening and distribution opportunities are growing. In this fast-paced change, the regulation and control of the current processes is a must. In this sense, the Western world is in a very favorable condition, since the post-World War II policy led to a new rise in cinematography, where changes are systematized. The picture is different in post-Soviet countries, including Armenia. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, each country embarked on its own path in an attempt to adapt to new relations and counted on national heritage and traditions.
Kinoashkharh talked to Director of French National Center of Cinema and Moving Pictures (Le Centre national du cinéma et de l’image animée or CNC) Eric Garandeau, who arrived in Armenia to attend the 10th Golden Apricot Yerevan International Film Festival, over the above-mentioned issues.
Cooperation entails give-and-take
Can the French and Armenian film centers cooperate despite their extreme structural and financial differences? According to Mr. Garandeau, it is not only possible but also mutually beneficial. Such a view stems from the cooperation agreement signed between the French and Armenian national cinema centers in 2012. In his words, this cooperation is important for France as much as for Armenia since cooperation does not merely entail giving or supporting, taking is also a must for cultural dialogue and diversity.
“Fundamentally, yes, the two film centers are different: the French center is totally independent, while the Armenian center operates under the Ministry of Culture,” Garandeau says. “However, this does not hinder us to work together and to expand partnership. I believe we shall establish a long-term and fruitful cooperation. I also think that the readiness of those responsible for the two centers is exemplary. Moreover, by the year end we will strive to re-sign the cooperation contract into a joint production contract.”
As a result of cooperation, our country will benefit from the experience of the French cinema, but what can Armenia give in its current state? Allaying our concerns, Mr. Garandeau hurried to assure: “We certainly have something to take. I am convinced Armenia is a country full of traditions, and we have something to take: it is your national coloring and unique character, your youth and positive energy.”
Eric Garandeau says the key purpose of the Armenian-French film cooperation is to invest the experience and methods acquired by French cinema on its path to development in Armenia. He gave assurances in the near future the cooperation between Armenia and France in the film industry will become more substantial, opening up real opportunities for co-productions.
“The CNC was created immediately after the war in 1946 when the Cannes International Film Festival was born,” he noted. “That’s when the French cinematography started to revive. The whole activities of the CNC were aimed at producing, preserving and distributing auteur films. Today the structure has nearly 600 employees, including people with Armenian roots. The annual budget of the center amounts to €700 million collected from various state-imposed taxes and directed towards the development and preservation of the national cinema. The center produces some 140 films annually in collaboration with filmmakers and producers from 30 countries. We are ready to share our experience with Armenia.”
Commenting on the question over the need for and limits of state support, as well as state-ordered films, Mr. Garandeau first of all said the CNC is not funded by the state as it is the case with Armenia, but there are professional councils that greatly support the center in various professional issues. The councils include quality professionals from the cinema sphere. They coordinate work with the cinema center, do not interfere with its main activities, but assist in the discussion and resolution of various issues related to the national cinema. “We are independent, facing no pressure from the state,” he stressed. “All the CNC’s activities are aimed at the development and distribution of French films. Directors and producers working with the center are also free in all aspects of their creative activity.”
He noted all the films produced are necessarily screened in cinemas and on TV, with relevant deals reached by film producers. Under the French law, the country’s TVs and cinemas display 60% national productions. The screenings of foreign films in cinemas cannot exceed the 30% threshold. “That’s why our movies have a 1/1 ratio in our country’s box office, i.e. one French film per one Hollywood film. Due to this mechanism, the French national cinema is still competitive. In addition, a film fund has been set up with a budget of €5 million which is directed towards the development of documentaries.”
Mr. Garandeau stressed the cinema and television have ended up in a crisis in such a developed country as Italy, and now they are also trying to adopt France’s experience. He believes the share of experience will give tangible results in Armenia as well.
What steps does the French film center head sees to get the Armenian cinema out of this situation? He didn’t dismiss the claims that Armenia isn’t in an enviable situation in terms of film production, and not only. He is convinced the widespread sales of cinemas and the privatization of film studios have simply paralyzed the sphere. “There are a few ways out: to adopt a law on cinema and sub-legislative acts regulating the sector, to develop all the mechanisms necessary for co-production and to establish a cinema network across the country. All these require funds, and since the country is not able to make major investments, it is necessary to collaborate with different international film funds to ease the burden of the state. In addition, I know that Armenia has a powerful Diaspora that can offer support to deal with the issue,” he said. He referred to the great input of renowned French-Armenian film producer Alain Terzian in the French cinema, Charles Aznavour with his powerful contacts and opportunities, as well as Simon Abkarian, Robert Getikyan and Serge Avedikian who enjoy a great reputation in France.
Golden Apricot in the eyes of film worker from country with great cinema and high-class film festival
“I greatly enjoyed the Yerevan film festival. I was amazed at the street liveliness. Everywhere I saw people rushing to the cinema with film projects in hand. I am deeply impressed by Armenia’s film traditions. Armenia has a great potential, which was visible in the very festival days. Festive mood gripped the whole city. I am just delighted with the enthusiasm and warmth that I saw in your city in these few days. The screened films show that Armenia has great young people, willing to invest their potential in the growth of the national cinema. During the festival I felt a powerful energy which signal that the country is ready to work and create. It is a double pleasure for me that this year’s Golden Apricot Yerevan Film Festival has a strong French focus. A total of 20 French co-productions have been screened this year on the sidelines of the Golden Apricot. The guest of honour at the festival was Charles Aznavour, with Alain Terzian and Serge Avedikian also in attendance.”
Interview by Ruzan Bagratunyan