Is European cinema under threat at trade talks?

Directors warn of "a terrible duplicity".

by Jennie Kermode

With European-US trade talks expected to start in late June or July, a group of directors has come together to protest the removal of the Cultural Exception that protected European cinema. Led by Michael Haneke, the list includes such luminaries as Bela Tarr, Aki Kaurismäki, Catherine Breillat, Bertrand Tavernier, Pedro Almodovar, Jane Campion and David Lynch. British signatories such as Mike Leigh, Ken Loach and Stephen Frears share concerns that, if film is treated like any other commodity, the diversiy of European cinema will be lost, with potentially devastating cultural consequences.

Introduced by the French in 1993, the Cultural Exception was designed to provide special protections for good and services that "encompass values, identity and meanings that go beyond their strictly commercial value." It enables member nations to insist that a certain proportion of films shown in cinemas are native in origin and, in effect, prevents them from being swamped by popular American films. Many filmmakers argue that the smaller European industries could not survive without it, or that they could do so only be producing a very different kind of cinema, setting aside artistic and cultural values.

The Trade Committee of the European Parliament recently voted to exempt film from the forthcoming talks, but it has come under continued pressure from Washington since. There remains a risk that concessions will be made in this area to secure agreement in others.

"The liberalisation of the audiovisual and film sector will lead to the destruction of all of what until now protected, promoted and helped develop European cultures," said the directors' group.

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