Last week the Culture and Education Committee held a public hearing entitled “Cinema and European Identities”. Among the speakers from the European film industry was legendary German film director Wim Wenders. Doris Pack, chair of the committee, opened proceedings by noting that “there can be no genuine sense of shared European identity if we forget our culture, especially cinema”.
According to Wim Wenders, who is also President of the European Film Academy, Europe is often perceived by its citizens as a political, economic and bureaucratic structure with little place for culture. “The administration of Europe has become the image of Europe. This is one of the reasons for euroscepticism”, said Mr Wenders. He suggested focusing more attention on the cinema as a solution to this problem. “Movies practically invented the American Dream. They can do miracles for the image of Europe too”, he added.
Despite the fact that about 80% of the films shown in Europe are American, about 1200 films are produced each year in Europe, which helps make European culture valued throughout the world. “We can be proud about the past and present of our cinema”, added Mr Wenders. What worried him, however, was that for our children “movies are synonymous with blockbusters”. He said “We are losing the young audiences” and urged that cinema literacy be made a compulsory subject in school curricula across the EU.
Mr Wenders also noted that fewer and fewer films from other European countries are shown in EU Member States. This needed to be tackled, as our European identity “depends on sharing our culture and values”. Mr Wenders paid tribute to the EU MEDIA programme as well as the EP LUX Prize for enabling people to see films from other European countries.
In an interview for the parliament later he said:
“European cinema is luckily not just one but it is composed of many voices and these voices have something in common that we proudly call European cinema.
A lot of people over the years have asked the question “does it exist or isn’t it just the sum of all the national cinemas?” – It is more than the sum. The sum is already quite a lot but European cinema is much more with its language of its own with its own rules and its own history. A very distinct language…that Hollywood learned a lot from over the years.
We see the incredible richness of films out there, and we see how little they travel. Every year it’s less. And it is not because people don’t like it. Once you show people these movies they are flabbergasted, they are astonished, but they don’t get to see them.
The audience is there, it is just that the chances to see these movies are diminished.”
We are very lucky to have such richness and diversity of culture throughout Europe and it does seem a shame that it is difficult to see many films from different member states in your own country. There are problems of course, such as translation, which can be prohibitively expensive, plus the demand may not be as great as for films from America. The fact that we share a language with the US makes it even more of a problem for us in the UK, but it is clear that this is an issue across Europe. I would like to see more support from the EU, in particular for independent cinemas, which are more likely to show non-English language films. Commissioner Vassiliou herself has recognised this and the commission say they are making funds available for cinemas to make the very expensive change over to the digital format.