Thursday, May 08, 2008

Belgian distributor drops French-speaking Belgian films

If you read the blurbs for French-speaking Belgian movies over the past few years, everyone was upbeat: the films regularly pick up awards and the directors were celebrated in the world's press. Yet at home, the situation is entirely different. There have been numerous debates over the past few years about the disastrous box office results of French-speaking movies in Belgium. This has come to a head with the recent announcement that Lumière, until now the main distributor of the films, has decided to simply stop showing them.

Needless to say, this comes as quite a shock in a year that has three Belgian movies in competition in Cannes. However, the situation was perfectly foreseeable. For years, the focus has entirely been on so-called auteur movies to the expense of any others. Even the award-winning titles such as Bouli Lanner's "Ultranova" brought in very disappointing results. It should be pointed out that it's the distributors that take the greatest risk in these films. Production is partly subsidised by public funds, but not distribution. Although they are often hailed for their "personal" vision, the truth is that many of the films are personal to the point of being private indulgences.

Too much rope?
I remember a headline one year ago where a politician asked, "When will the Belgian audience be interested in Belgian movies?" It was, of course, the wrong question - as if the audience was there to serve the film-makers rather than the other way around. The Belgian audience will be interested in Belgian movies when the film-makers take an interest in the Belgian audience. That's the way it works in the real world. Many of these film-makers have simply been given too much rope for too long.

Just a short trip up the road, a different mentality can be seen. 2007 was one of the all-time best years for Belgium's Dutch-speaking film-makers, with numerous box-office hits and good results in art-house movies such as "Ben X". In fact, there is so much TV and film work that good scriptwriters are hard to find.

I know this might sound old-fashioned, but you must be doing something right when people are willing to pay to see your movies on a Saturday night. Deep down, I think too many people had gotten used to too much easy money for too long. I welcome the new constraints. They were a long time coming.

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