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David Puttnam

Cannes Speech

Cannes Speech
MONDAY 18 MAY 2015


Good afternoon, it’s a genuine pleasure to be speaking to you this afternoon both as President of the  Film Distributors’ Association and as a passionate pro-European.


I’d like to begin by acknowledging the boldness of the Commission’s vision as articulated by Commissioner Oettinger and his colleague Commissioner Ansip.

Within their published strategy for a Digital Single Market there are some very big potential wins for citizens, consumers and businesses - notably around increasing access to education, something I care very deeply about.


The truth is, as I know from my role as Ireland’s Digital Champion, we've already gone well beyond being just a digital society, we are now a mobile digital society.

The Commission’s strategy document is a hugely ambitious attempt to drive jobs, innovation and growth across all 28 Member States.


Like the Commission, the film business in Europe is eager to seize the opportunities presented by digital – to broaden access to consumers, thereby driving revenues and growth.

In this respect the digital environment offers untold possibilities – for, in the words of the title of this conference – European films really do connect with global audiences.


And we’ve a strong base to build from – for instance last year, European films shared 33% of the European box office, the highest figure since the Audiovisual Observatory started collecting data in 1996.

And the European film industry is well established as one of the world's largest and most diverse production centers.

Over 1,600 feature films were made in Europe last year, an indication that something must be working pretty well.


But if eighteen years as a legislator has taught me any one thing it’s to beware of the law of 'unintended consequences'.

It’s all too easy to get trapped by the ramifications of what, in Parliament, we call 'the slippery slope', and you can find yourself sliding down that slope for a whole variety of reasons.


Whether it be in media policy, climate change or education, I’ve witnessed any number of ways in which politicians and officials - pursuing the most admirable goals - find themselves achieving the opposite of what was intended!


So, whilst full of admiration for what the Commission wishes to achieve,

the concern I have – which I know is shared right across Europe’s film industry – is how it goes about achieving its goals, most notably around the circulation of films and copyright.


Rightly, there is nothing in copyright law that prevents simultaneous European or even global releasing.


But the key issue for the filmmakers and filmgoers of Europe is, what form of 'digital single market' will best serve the production and distribution of our work?


In some cases US blockbusters are already available to their audiences 'day and date', but European cinema must continue to enrich their choice, not simply seek to replicate it.


In the few minutes available to me, I’d like briefly to explore some of the complex, intertwined strands that we need to disentangle.

And I genuinely believe there’s more common ground, and a greater degree of shared interest, than sometimes gets portrayed.


What’s in play here are not only the rights held by creators over how their works are exploited, but also the future of the business model that sustains and delivers an extraordinarily diverse range of independent films to international audiences here in Europe, and all around the world.


You can’t simply replicate the United States of America with a United States of Europe, even if there were a popular mandate to do so.

Europe’s total population of 740 million citizens is vast – double that of the USA.


We have 23 officially recognised languages in the EU – for all of which, authorised dubbing or subtitling must be properly executed.


And there’s probably an equal number of content classification regimes, too!


When you seek to remove the flexibility for films to be released and financed on a territorial basis you create a big, possibly even an insuperable problem for both our audiences and our filmmakers.


When I say ‘territorial’, I’m not referring to national silos, but in many cases groups of countries with a shared language.


The high up-front production costs of film and television mean that many projects only become viable through territorial licensing, and this is a reality that cannot simply be wished away.


In a nutshell, territorial licensing enables financial advances to be secured against exclusive local distribution rights, before a film enters production.

That very fact of ‘exclusivity’ provides the distributor with the possibility of recoupment – and even eventual profit – remembering that each investment is, in effect, a risky ‘prototype’ in an ever more crowded marketplace.


There’s nothing old-fashioned about this – many successful films, from Amour to Ida, could simply not have been made otherwise.


Any one-size-fits-all approach, the very sound of which seems to belong to a bygone analogue era, can only result in a diminished film culture.


And I'd add; is also likely to blow a hole below the waterline of cultural diversity – that same ‘diversity’ that colleagues from across Europe fought so hard to maintain and strengthen during the GATS trade talks almost 25 years ago.


Within an overall digital market, we need to strengthen Europe’s local markets in ways that best meet the sophisticated consumer needs of those markets – as well as enabling us to increase the circulation of European films beyond our own borders.


Let me briefly make two points that I hope may help to bridge what could easily become a widening gap between the Commission and the creative industries.



If anyone seriously believes that the creative community is somehow unwilling to embrace change, and wishes to carry on as if its business models should somehow be preserved in aspic, let me put them straight.


I am not, nor ever have been, a fan of ‘protectionism’.

The digital world continues to shift on its axis, and disrupt our lives, much faster than many people seem prepared to acknowledge.


But the fact is that, at key junctures in its history, the film industry has adapted well to wave after wave of brutal change.

Consider how it coped with the arrival of sound; of television and video; of multiplex cinemas.

I often debate with my students how very different Cinema might have been had film had been invented at the same time as synchronized sound!


Film distributors, whose livelihood comes from licensing the titles they represent, are as keen as anyone for the new generation of digital technologies to empower more consumers, to allow them  to share more and ever better audio-visual experiences.


And the industry is busy reinventing itself for the 21st century, and there is probably even more it could do.


Independent film distributors based in an EU member state may find it advantageous to consider ways in which to 'partner up' with fellow independents in other European states.

Rather akin to the schemes in Creative Europe’s MEDIA Programme, it may be worth exploring new strategic alliances that could create more 'networked' ways of bringing films to European audiences.


My second point is this:

There may be some who think there’s too much choice; that we’re already flooded with ‘content’, and that a new equilibrium should be found.

To that I’d say, be careful what you wish for!


There are those in the industry who are genuinely concerned that the levels of investment they’re seeking here in Cannes - amounting to hundreds of millions of euros - could very seriously come under threat.


Currently around seven million jobs, and half a billion euros of European GDP, rely on what we might term, the copyright-based industries.


I can only urge the Commission to progress their plans in a well informed, evidence-based way; taking full account of European film economics, the practicalities of diverse consumer demand,

and why things work as comparatively well as they do.


The Commission has a clear responsibility to enhance the viewing choices of all the citizens of Europe, surely any new legislation must ensure that those choices, together with the jobs and investment that come with them, are not gambled away on that 'slippery slope' of unintended consequences.


Thank you very much for listening to me - and may I wish you a thoroughly enjoyable and productive discussion.


1367 words.