We have seen its logo a few thousand times during the end credits of our favourite European films, among thesupporters of film festivals and cinemas, but there are just a few occasions when we have the chance to get to know what exactly Eurimages is. Eurimages is the cultural support fund of the Council of Europe, the most important human rights association (which is often mixed up by the European Commission, which is the executive body of the European Union). Established in 1989, it currently has 36 member states, and it is based in Strasbourg. Its main aim is to promote European cinema: the member states together contribute 25 million dollars which goes to support the production, distribution and exhibition of European artworks. They have now announced a new initiative, the Lab Project, which is meant to support 5 experimental works. We wanted to know more about it: this is why we asked Roberto Olla, the executive director of Eurimages to explain the idea behind it.
interview by Dániel Deák
Why did you decide to launch the Lab Project?
We see that sometimes, not necessarily always, but sometimes public funds in general, both international and national or local, by trying to professionalise the industry and by trying to make their best to select the best project (whatever that means), push filmmakers to make films according to the classic rules of filmmaking. It means that these films should be well written and the script has to be professionally developed. We are all armed with the best intentions, of course, but by doing this we do not necessarily allow filmmakers to try new things. Anything which is not easily understandable is considered to be unprofessional – and therefore not accepted. One of the functions of the public funds is to help filmmakers (producers, directors, etc.) to take risks, because the market alone does not allow that. The market wants films which sell tickets, so they do not want to take risks.
The idea of the Lab Project is to allow filmmakers to try new things and to take risks. We don’t know exactly what directions they are going to take, because if we knew, that creativity and experimentation would not happen. So we cannot define exactly what kind of artworks we expect. We try to support non-conventional projects, and if someone defines what a non-conventional project is, it becomes conventional.
Does it mean that a project does not necessarily have to be scripted or the script-development phase would not be included?
If the project is non-scripted because of the artistic concept it is putting forward, it can be still eligible for funding – this will not play against supporting it, which is the case right now in most of cases at funds we know, including Eurimages until now. But of course, we still allow a traditional script version of the idea of the film they are proposing to us. This problem will not come up in practical terms, because the Lab Project will be judged on the moving images they have already produced. So the money will be used either to finish shooting or to post-produce. In both cases, we are not going to judge the projects on paper (scripts, drawings, written concepts) – we are going to judge the projects on what they have already shot and on what they are going to tell us at oral pitchings, how they imagine the final version of the film.
Is there a certain kind of development phase after these decisions you made?
We are a kind of pioneer, because nobody has done this before, so we will learn more now by doing it. For the time being we will give 50 percent of the grant upon selection, so €25,000 will be paid upfront. The rest of the funding will be held back until the film has been finished. In the meantime, the filmmakers will have to show us how things are moving on. We cannot be too tough with them, because these projects are – both from dramaturgical but also from a production point of view – non-commercial. I think we will adapt project by project and we will see how we can help them making the film, and on the other hand we will have to be sure that the money we pay will be used exclusively for the project and not for other purposes.
How to do you see the distribution possibilities of these projects? Right now you support theatrical distribution and cinema exhibition.
This is a difficult question and we do not have a very clear answer for that. Eurimages support cinema films. So both the dramaturgy and the technical side have to be ready for that. It cannot be audiovisual in general. How films are exploited and enjoyed by people – that is another story. You can produce a film which will be seen on a mobile phone in theory, but it has to be conceived essentially for cinema, and we will keep that. In the traditional support scheme the majority co-producer has the obligation to show the film in cinema theatres. That obligation is softer for minority co-producers. If, for whatever reason, the film cannot be shown in theatre, they have to show us how they plan to spread the film to the audience; there must be a strategy for VOD, festivals, DVD, TV, whatever. That is for the traditional scheme. For the Lab Project we are going to be a little bit more flexible knowing that the concept of co-production is not going to be as strict as in the case of the traditional films. When they pitch the project to us, they have to talk about the audience: who they are and how they are going to bring the films to them.
I am pretty sure that the problem will not appear in the classic terms: is this a film for TV or cinema? The selection of the projects we will look at will be made by festivals. When the four festivals in question: Karlovy Vary, Les Arcs, Haugesund and Thessaloniki organise the Lab Project session, they will filter by selecting the best 10 or 15 projects. Those films – in their concept and film language – will be projects for cinema.
interview in World of Young Cinema Magazine
Do you plan to support other audiovisual formats? For instance the game industry?
The game industry and the cinema industry have been completely separated until recently. They had completely different ways of making their own films and games. Now these two worlds are slowly but surely merging: there is a lot of creativity in the gaming industry and characters developed in games become heroes in films.
For the time being, Eurimages is not going to put money in the game industry. We do not have the concept, and more importantly, we do not have the money for that. However, if the film or the project which is proposed to us derives from films or the concept the producers provide to us is part of a bigger picture with other audiovisual projects – that would not be a problem for us, because we are happy to see that these two worlds are more and more interconnected.
We can also see that the young generation of artists is thinking in transmedia. So there is a chance that there will be such works among the Lab Projects.
I really hope so. The idea of the Lab Project is to encourage filmmakers to try new things by pushing the boundaries of their own territory, to try new ideas, to dirty their hands doing new things. Whatever art forms they are going to decide to get inspirations or learn from, it’s up to them and we will be happy to see if it is very colourful.
What other ways do you want to reach young filmmakers? Sometimes we see that they are unaware of the funding opportunities and the structures of these are hard to understand.
For the Lab Project, the idea is to let anybody apply: first timers and established directors alike. A lot will depend on what young filmmakers can show us as materials they have already shot. We try to explain to them that the way we are going to decide is not on paper, which guarantees that our understanding of the project is as close as it is possible to the project itself. Are young filmmakers targeted in this new support scheme? Yes, but not only them. If you can provide footage you have already made and the above mentioned four festivals select you, nothing else matters. They will judge based on what they see and not on the names. Funnily enough, the four festivals all take place in the second part of the year, so there is still time to be prepared. In my opinion it makes the process a lot more democratic. I really hope that these four festivals will go towards the right direction over the next years and the support scheme proves to be good and maybe my Board of Management will authorise me to put more money into this. At that point there will be other festivals in more regions, which would mean more opportunities for the filmmakers.