Council of Europe Forum: cinema and cultural diversity

Strategies for financing cinematography, legal regulations and the role of cinema in shaping human rights consciousness and keeping cultural diversity: these were the main topics of discussion at the Council of Europe Forum that began in Kraków on Thursday.

The main organisers of the Council of Europe Forum are the Polish Film Institute, the European Think Tank on Film and Film Policy, the Council of Europe, the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage and the city of Kraków.

Forum participants are to discuss possible means of supporting cinematography and its role in the contemporary world, which is undergoing globalization processes along with expansion of new technologies.


The starting point is a rapport prepared by Think Tank about the methods of financing film industry in various European countries, aims and strategies of co-production and the development of cinematography in changing conditions of production and film distribution.

One of the most important initial topics was the ethical aspects of cinematography and their role in strengthening cultural diversity. During the official opening day of the Forum, Robert Palmer, the Director of Culture and Cultural and Natural Heritage at the Council of Europe, noted that real development is observed only in those societies in which artists have and use full freedom.


“Market forces alone will not guarantee artistic freedom,” said Palmer. “That is why improvements in the system of supporting cinematography are so important.”

Jacques Tubon, the president of Eurimages, has a similar opinion, “Two basic features of art are the freedom of artistic creation and respect for copyrights,” he said. “We should maintain and support them. This is extremely important, since the artist can succeed his time (and) influence the future. Film creativity should be perceived as art, responsibility, social duty, and commercial act.”


He concluded his speech by listing what he called the three most important elements of art: solidarity, beauty, and diversity.

The last of these elements was also mentioned by many other participants. Palmer pointed out that the notion of cultural diversity has different colours in various countries: it is something different in London and in Paris, and something else again in Belgrade and Tbilisi. The problem is not only explaining the term, but addressing the troubling voices in Europe that describe cultural diversity as categories of conflict.


Palmer said the inner politics of many countries is inconsistent in this sense. “The solution to this problem can be the providing more opportunity in the media, particularly in film, where it might be possible for people from various cultural circles to meet and exchange views,” he said.

Krzysztof Zanussi was sceptical of the vision of various cultures in co-existence. In the opinion of the promonent director, a belief that completely different cultures can co-exist without any problems is in reality an expression of doubt in one’s own values and common illusion. “The question is: does globalisation have to mean westernisation?” asks the director. “The answer is ‘no.'”

Prof. Tadeusz Lubelski from the Jagiellonian University is an optimist. “At stake is not co-existence of various film types — commercial, socially engaged, and artistically valuable — but the possibility to create films which would fulfil all of those conditions,” said Lubelski.


“It is possible. The proof of this is the Cannes Golden Palm for Farenheit 9/11 by Michael Moore, a film raising important social matters, thus strongly affecting people.” Amores Perros by Alexander Gonzáles Iñárritu can also be credited to this group of films, and from Polish cinematography, films by Krzysztof Krauze.

The importance of national cinematography was underlined by Afghan director Siddiq Barmak, whose film Osama was shown at the Forum. “We recognise outermost countries greatly due to films.” Barmak said. “If a particular country’s cinematography is weak, the knowledge about it remains insignificant beyond the borders. Cultural heritage dies out because it is pressured by Hollywood and Bollywood. An Afghanistan market of native cinema does not exist, because there are no funds or help from the government.”

A screening of Stories on Human Rights gave a perfect illustration of cultural diversity. It is a set of 10 three-minute films produced by directors from around the world. The Stories were produced for the United Nations to honour the 60th anniversary of signing the Declaration of Human Rights.

The second day of Forum began with the presentation of the report, “Public Policies for Film: Challenges in a Changing Context,” which moved the discussion to more practical aspects of developing and financing cinematography in Europe. The report was presented by Henning Camre, President of the Think Tank, and Jonathan Davies, Association Consultant.

Camre noted that although about 900 films are produced in Europe, only a few earn enough to cover the costs of production, not to mention any profit, due to the lack of a strong link between production and market. In other words, he said, when producing films, nobody thinks about how to sell them.


On the other hand, a film is a product which has to be promoted. He noted that 86% of European funds supporting cinematography are allocated to development and production, and only 14% to promotion and distribution. By contrast, in the United States, promotional costs often exceed production costs. Camre also noted the lack of big corporations involved in film production in Europe, and the still unsatisfactory degree of cinema digitisation.

For his part, Jonathan Davies pointed out the cinematography market is not keeping up with the changes it is facing in the era of new media, especially the Internet, which has become one of the most important contact points between films and viewers. He also underlined the stronger subordination of producers from public funds, what as a result increases expectations from the creators.

The Think Tank report was the starting point for plenary discussions that will be held during the congress. Recommendations and suggestions will take the shape of postulates for changes in national and European policy on cinematography.

The Forum will be held until 13 September.


Translated by Monika Miziniak | Edited by Patricia Koza