According to this news item, the big issue at Cannes this year is how 70% of all European movie ticket sales are to American films.
If you read the item you’ll see that there’s a great deal of both confusion and emotion involved. The French are so upset that they’re claiming that any picture funded by American studios is a US movie, and so ineligible to compete in French film festivals. This includes the Harry Potter films, movies that have nothing to do with America except that dollars were used to produce it.
It’s understandable that the Europeans are interested in this issue. American culture, particularly US popular culture, is incredibly appealing. The appeal seems to cross many cultural lines, something that is very puzzling to the cultural elites in Europe.
Canada has long been aware that they had to preserve their cultural identity. Since 1932 the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation has striven to insure that radio programming had content produced by Canadians. They’ve done this with a quota system, requiring that a certain percentage of aired content be domestically produced. The same rules were applied to television when it became widespread in the 1950’s.
The Europeans are facing a double threat, and I’m rather sympathetic to their plight. Not only is the US entertainment industry an 800 pound gorilla that appears unstoppable, but in forming the European Union they’re also breaking down many of the trade and travel barriers that protected their unique cultural identities. If they’re truly interested in speaking with one voice then it’s inevitable that the accents will start to fade over time.
So far the Europeans haven’t made a firm decision on any course of action. There’s some talk of promoting the distribution of European films over the Internet, the idea being that people would enjoy movies from their own country if it was easier to watch them. I don’t think that’s the problem, and I think the concept that the European movie-watching public will flock to domestically produced entertainment if they just knew that it was out there to be deeply flawed. Companies that are willing to rent DVD’s and movies through the mail already exist, after all, so it’s tough to imagine that a lack of access is causing a lack of interest.
So what’s the answer? I don’t have one. But I can make a prediction. Considering how enamored the Europeans are over runaway bureaucracy, expect to see some sort of EU Commission to Ensure Cultural Identity being formed in the next few years.