On March 13-16, Yerevan hosted the 150th meeting of the Council of Europe’s “Eurimages” Fund for Cultural Assistance. “Kinoashkhar” edition has had an exclusive interview with Mr. Roberto Olla, Executive Director of the “Eurimages”.
-What important steps should a country like Armenia take to integrate into the world cinema? And on the opposite, what is not advisable to do? What practical steps are needed to enforce co-productions?
-There is no single solution for everyone. Each country has its own peculiarities, its traditional cinematography and market. Co-productions seem to work under interactive collaboration. For example, the project, launched in Armenia, can also raise funds from another country. But there must be interaction. It can both work on majority and minority basis. It works well when the state provides funds not to solely Armenian projects, but, on the principle of a minority co-production, to a French movie, for instance. That may create interest towards the country, and foreign producers are likely to start working more with you.
–How can we facilitate the integration process and support local filmmakers at the same time?
-Every country is doing it in its own way. The most common form is that the state creates a separate fund for minority-minded co-productions. That is, your state becomes an active player in the world cinema industry and creates interest in working with your country in particular, in the field of film production. This way, the state also helps independent producers i.e. Armenian producers work on minority basis co-productions.
–So far we have no cinema law. In case the state adopts it, could it contribute to the development of the film industry, in particular, through the promotion of production through tax incentives?
– There are countries which have the cinema law, which stipulates that processes, there are countries that do not have it yet, thus, funds themselves decide how much to allocate to majority or minority co-productions. There are countries that have no cinemas funds, but they have developed relevant tax policy, which grants tax incentives to foreign filmmakers and, thus, attracts foreign inflow, brings money to the country, integrates renowned people and enables local filmmakers to participate in international projects. This creates new connections, new collaborations, people start to recognize each other, trust and work together.
In some countries, for example, TV companies are bound by law to invest in film production. This can also be an option for Armenia.
-There are few Armenian projects which could gain subsidies from international funds. What might be the reason?
-It’s conventional wisdom that in filmmaking it is the film director and his vision which are important and we have to rely on them. The script is just one of the components of the movie.
But in western cinema the film script is regarded as the cornerstone, it plays the key role in decision making whether to contribute to the project or not. Of course, there are many films in the world with no original script, but with good directing. However, if the script is not professional, if it’s weak or lacks originality, we consider the project risky, even if the director is able to create something interesting from such a script.
Such is the trend of the current film market.
That’s why maybe your country should invest in developing a script writing school, so that projects can reach the international market. I’m from the south of Italy and in my country the script writing art is not so developed as in the north of Europe, so I do understand what lack of a good script means.
-Armenia is a member of many international organizations, however, it is not a member of many important networking organizations, for example, the Creative Media Europe Program. May this fact impede the realization of Armenian film projects?
– I do not know to what extent it may impede the process, but I’m sure that joining European organizations will help. It will enable Armenian specialists to meet with European counterparts. Organizing trainings can prove to be extremely instructive and very important for new generation professionals.
Contacts and networking are essential components in cinema- the director works with a costume designer or an editor creating mutual trust. It’s a whole network, which is not connected with money. It is necessary to create opportunities for Armenian specialists to meet with specialists from other countries to compete and show up internationally in practice.
By doing so, they will raise their level, whether they like it or not. Georgia has entered that process a little bit earlier. It is several years that Georgia has joined Eurimages and the “Creative Media Europe” program, so Georgia film professionals are slowly but firmly gaining the international platform.
– “Eurimages” provides financial assistance in three directions: joint film production, distribution and exhibition. What projects are the priorities for the Eurimages grants?
– “Eurimages” is a cultural fund, unlike, for example, “Creative Europe”, which is more focused on development of production. We attach greater importance to the cultural aspect of the projects, not the market competitiveness. We do not have much money, we can allocate only € 25 million per year to projects from many countries, so we choose projects that are not commercially viable and cannot afford the cost of movie production while businessmen do not risk investing because the topics are complex, controversial or have bold aesthetics. The French are calling it auteur movie, and many people call it so. You may call it whatever you like, but in the “Eurimages” we value the director’s point of view, which acts as the film’s engine. Commercial cinema is also a great thing, these films are important for the entertainment of the audience. But we do not have so much financial opportunity to support them, besides, the market itself is able to keep these films.
-Film industry is both art and business. Auteur films should also be able to provide some income to exist. Besides, the boundaries of auteur and non-auteur films in modern cinematography are not distinctive enough. How does Eurimages relate to commercial film projects?
– In the past, we were not inclined to finance thrillers, science fictions or comedies, but now we change our position as many directors play with these genres, show individual approach, and sometimes even break through already popular rules.
We have recently financed even some zombie films, comedies, horrors, because they all displayed an auteur approach, they were intellectual and “double-wrapped” – both commercial and auteur, so they could not rely on commercial distribution only. Of course, it also happens that auteur films do have a commercial success. For example, “Ida” (Dir., Pavel Pavlikowski, production countries, Poland, Denmark, 2013) is a black-and-white, art-house film that reveals that the heroine is of a Jewish descent. This circumstance brought commercial success to the film (laughing), it was shown in many countries and had a successful distribution.
– Besides getting the production finance, what other privileges does the project supported by “Eurimages” have?
– The “Eurimages” support is already a quality assessment for the film. Yes, there are other opportunities, not only in the issue of distribution, as our films are not easily percepted, and the distributors tend to choose commercial films according to the market demand. Our support helps films to be selected at festivals, not necessarily in Cannes (though there as well), but in many other festivals where the “Eurimages” sign gets many people’s attraction. This can give an opportunity to raise extra funding and participate in other festivals. If there are no public support organizations such as the “Eurimages”, we will only have the same kind of films produced for the market. We are working to increase the audience’s choice. The Council of Europe believes in pluralism and democracy. Our audience is small, but their opinion is very important.
– Gender strategy, the increasing involvement of women in the cinema industry, which has been adopted by the Council of Europe, in particular by the “Eurimages”, helps achieve pluralism. Armenia also tried to join in with a public discussion organized, and it turned out that our men were pressuring our female directors too. Which are good steps to encourage production of films directed by women?
-Public discussion on gender equality is of fundamental importance. Why do I mention this? In 2012, when I raised this topic, there were no scandals yet (Harvey Wainstein scandal).
I was participating in an event where a gender topic was raised. Until then I did not know that there was such a problem. When I returned to Strasbourg, I asked my employer to study the problem and make calculations. It turned out that such a problem really exists. You need to study the data and find out if there is such a problem and take measures. Unless you have a clear statistical calculation, you cannot come up with an issue whether there is a problem or not, or how to deal with it. The goal is clear – women should have equal opportunities in the cinema. I am speaking about giving them such opportunities cause women make half or more than half of the population. When half of the population is voiceless or is not heard means democracy which is traumatic. It is important to establish associations of for women filmmakers so that their unified voice will become more audible.
– At the beginning of my interview I asked what important steps should a country like Armenia take to integrate into the world cinema? And on the opposite, what is not advisable to do? You did not answer the second part of my question. And so, what should our country not do?
– It’s not advisable to linger over your actions and, at the same time, you should not rush either. You have to make an investment and wait for the result, which will definitely happen.
Interview by Anna Sargsyan