The French court of auditors calls for reform of film subsidies

Justine Triet, winner of this year's Palme d'Or for 'Anatomy of a Fall,' reignited the debate with her controversial comments in Cannes
Justine Triet, winner of this year's Palme d'Or for 'Anatomy of a Fall,' reignited the debate with her controversial comments in Cannes Copyright Vianney Le Caer / Invision / AP
By David MouriquandAFP
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Too many films? One of the French Court of Auditors' recommendations is likely to be controversial...


The Cour des Comptes (French Court of Auditors) has entered the debate on public support for French cinema, arguing that too many films are being aided to the point where they are unable to find theaters.

In a report unveiled today, Wednesday 20 September, France's highest financial court examines more than a decade (2011-2022) of management at the Centre National du Cinéma et de l'Image Animée (CNC), an institution backed by the French Ministry of Culture.

The report is full of praise for the public institution that generates nearly €700 million in annual resources for the sector, and has had the pandemic and the arrival of platforms like Netflix to adapt to.

However, one of its recommendations is likely to be controversial: the Cour des Comptes is calling for "an in-depth reform of aid" to the film industry, which is too numerous and too complex for its liking.

The debate was reignited earlier this year, after the controversy sparked by director Justine Triet and her remarks when receiving her Palme d'Or at Cannes for Anatomie d'une chute (Anatomy of a Fall). The director took the authorities to task, accusing them of wanting to "break" the cultural exception and sacrifice support for young authors on the altar of profitability.

The Minister of Culture, Rima Abdul Malak, responded by calling the remarks “ungrateful and unfair”, while certain politicians mocked a "spoiled, conformist child" (Cannes' LR mayor David Lisnard).

The Cour des Comptes' diagnosis points out that the CNC remains the guarantor of "the French model of cultural exception, combining independent production and creativity".

It is this model "that has enabled French films to maintain a market share of almost 40%, the development of a powerful animation sector and audiovisual series that now dominate the French market (in contrast to the situation some fifteen years ago)."

But the financial magistrates point to the fact that cinema subsidies continue to swell, for French films that are increasingly varied, but which also are also failing to find their audience in theaters.

Indeed, a third of French films attracted fewer than 20,000 cinema-goers in 2019, compared with a quarter a decade earlier, notes the Court.

There’s also the matter of their profitability, a burning issue for a sector. Only 2% of films are profitable from their theatrical release, according to the Court's calculations.

The report also underlines that certain authors are frequently supported, such as documentary filmmaker Claire Simon, who has been financed seven times in ten years, Arnaud Despleschin (five times), or Justine Triet (four times).

To those who point to the success of French auteurs at major festivals, or who advocate the "cultural value of a film (which) is not reducible to its public success alone", the magistrates reply that the overflow of films doesn't allow them to stay in theaters long enough to find an audience.

"The CNC and the Ministry of Finance, particularly with regard to tax credits, must learn the lessons from this situation, which results in an ever-increasing number of productions being financed, an ever-increasing number of productions whose contribution to the success and influence of French cinema, central objectives of the support policy, seems far from convincing", deduce the financial magistrates.

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