Due to an EU initiative that promotes films abroad, European films are increasingly popular. Now experts are debating whether filmmakers should define themselves in contrast to Hollywood or seek beneficial partnerships.
The French film "Amelie" was a global hit in 2001
Three years ago, "Amelie," the story of a young Parsian girl who takes it upon herself to improve the lives of her fellow citizens, captured the attention of cinema-goers around the world. Though directed by the well-known French director Jean-Pierre Jeunet, "Amelie" would likely not have enjoyed such international success without the help of MEDIA Plus, a little known EU initiative set-up to foster and promote European film abroad.
The successor to the MEDIA program established by the EU in 1991, MEDIA Plus, an expanded version, was christened in 2001 and given an additional four-year mandate. With a war chest of €400 million ($529 million), its directors have ambitious plans to help European film contend with and challenge the dominance of Hollywood movies. But those within the industry differ over how to proceed.
European film festivals like in Berlin draw international audiences.
Since its inception, MEDIA Plus has taken a leading role in several aspects of European film. As part of its official mandate, the program trains up-and-coming filmmakers, develops projects and companies, and distributes and promotes films abroad.
The latter efforts, however, have perhaps proven to be the most important, since European filmmakers have a long and respected tradition but suffer from relatively little name recognition overseas. What's more, its difficult for smaller European filmmakers to compete with Hollywood filmmakers' massive advertising budgets.
"Eighty percent of European films distributed outside of their country of origin receive funding from MEDIA Plus," Cornelia Hammelmann of the Hamburg branch of the European Film Promotion initiative told Deutsche Welle.
Promoting individuality vs. fostering exchanges
Babelsberg Motion Pictures in Potsdam, near Berlin
In Hammelmann's view, European films -- compared to those made in the United States, have many unique and superior qualities. She pointed to the scripts and stories, which she said are not as dependent on special effects to capture the viewer's attention. "The films aren't great films because of special effects alone -- they are good scripts and excellently told stories," she said.
In contrast, Henning Molfenter, the director of the German film production company Babelsberg Motion Pictures, based just outside Berlin, said it wasn't purely an issue of good scripts vs. special effects. In his opinion, a Hollywood film is not necessarily synonymous with action films and there is much European filmmakers can learn from Hollywood's high production value and topical themes.
"Sometimes I think Hollywood is just a bit faster in capturing the popular Zeitgeist," he said.
Instead of simply promoting the unique or superior aspects of European film, he would offer an alternative: bring Hollywood producers to Europe so both sides can profit. Molfenter envisioned an exchange that would build a bridge between both cinematic traditions.
The European Film Awards will be announced Saturday
He pointed to the recent filming of a Hollywood-produced movie starring Charlize Theron, which was filmed in Babelsberg. The largely German crew would take their newly learned skills and apply them to their next project in Germany, he pointed out.
Regardless of differences, both sides agree on one thing: European films -- of ever-improving quality -- are gaining a higher international profile. On Saturday, the European Film Academy based in Barcelona will honor the cream of the crop at its annual European Film Prize awards. Will film-goers in the US line-up to see the winner?