'Cinema is art, not a commercial product'
The last-minute invitation to representatives from the Flemish film and television industry to join the crown prince on his trade mission to California was a smart move that delivered excellent results. About thirty independent producers and representatives from America’s key film studios attended a seminar on Belgian film policy and listened how foreign minister Didier Reynders MR sang the praises of the country’s tax shelter that offers a tax rebate of 150% on investments in Belgian audiovisual projects if the investment does not exceed the film’s budget by 50%. Another hot item was director Michaël Roskam’s fierce promotion of the ‘cultural exception’ regime for cultural products and Belgian film productions. Roskam, who owes his international breakthrough to his film Rundskop Bullhead, is now involved in an American series tinged with Belgian undertones for the American pay channel HBO is a convinced defender of the uniqueness of the European and Belgian film: “We should not always export our talents; we should show the Americans that we can also create beautiful things in Belgium. It’s no longer the ultimate ambition of European filmmakers to make it big in Hollywood,” said Roskam. He does not believe that Belgium is unknown to the American film industry, but does feel there is a huge difference between the way film is viewed on the two continents. In Europe film belongs to the field of arts and culture. In America it’s a product driven by the economic industry. “That was also the issue that was raised during the trade agreement between Europe and the US. In America film is a product with commercial objectives as it costs a lot of money to produce. But it’s also a product based on the story of an author, who is seen as an independent creative force. It’s important that we participate in these Belgian trade missions, even if just to make that difference quite clear. It’s only by getting to know each other that we can build trust and overcome our differences.” Even though he now works in Hollywood, Roskam still considers himself a European with European sensibilities. “I attach considerable value to cultural uniqueness. If we want our country or cultural community to remain on the global stage we must treasure our special characteristics and cultural uniqueness. We should make sure we brace ourselves against the superpowers that will assimilate or push us aside to maintain their monopoly. It’s a business world. And their model is strong: making films, selling films, showing a profit, making more films. Quite simple.” According to the Americans, cultural uniqueness is a form of unfair competition. They also find the state support dishonest. “But they should understand that it’s much easier for a film to be profitable in the US than in Belgium or Flanders. We have to nurture a system that considers the specific characteristics of the European film industry,” he states with conviction.