By co-producing regional films, the Regional Centre of Audiovisual Resources (Nord-Pas-de-Calais) hopes to see a return on its investment. A report of the Regional Audit Chamber published last July confirms that the association, largely financed by the Regional Council, rarely sees its Easter Eggs hatch.
Un conte de Noël by Arnaud Desplechin, Flandres or La vie de Jésus by Bruno Dumont, Le scaphandre et le papillon by Julian Schnabel… Oh so many films have been made in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais. Have the directors fallen in love with the region? Perhaps. But if they feel more attracted to the North, it’s surely for another reason: the regional subventions are particularly generous. Just in 2011 alone, the Regional Council handed out 2.7 million Euros (part funding by the Cinema and Animated Image Centre [CNC] included) in line with its policy, which places it in the top 3 behind Ile-de-France (approx 14 million) and Rhônes-Alpes (6 million), the Regional Audit Chamber explains in a report published last July.
However, it was mainly the CRAAV (which has now become Pictanovo since its merger with the Pôle Image Nord-Pas-de-Calais last December), who have shown themselves to be particularly generous when it comes to aiding the production of films in the region. The association, created in 1985, is in fact largely financed by the Regional Council, who spend their money left, right and centre in order to promote the regional image by means of cinematographic and audiovisual productions. In line with economic and development policy for the audio visual and image sector, the ex-CRAAV (today Pictanovo) has seen its subventions from the Nord-Pas-de-Calais Regional Council go from 1.9 million Euros in 2001 to a whooping… 6 million Euros in 2011, almost a three-fold increase!
How does the CRRAV-Pictanovo, and therefore the region at the end of the day, manage to get a return on its investment? If the operation for Bienvenue chez les ch’tis was above board when it came to subventions, this is not necessarily so for other ventures. Contrary to most other bodies that give support in other regions, the CRRAV does not award subventions but co-produces the works of art that is wishes to support. The association therefore receives a percentage of the net takings from the distribution of the film before all other backers. The system seems quite virtuous on paper.
In practice, it’s a complete catastrophe. Not only does success hinge on the film and the year but “the CRRAV admits that it has great difficulty getting payment of its percentage of the net takings” the Regional Audit Chamber informs us. The reasons? Firstly, the “great complexity if not opacity of the mechanics of box-office ticket sales”, with cinema owners, producers and distributors all able to take off diverse sums laid out. Then there is “the impossibility to enforce one of the most important clauses in the contract concerning certain financiers”: in other words, companies who can already claim tax rebates or those that collect funds for the Cinema and Audiovisual Industry (thereby obtaining tax rebates for their investors in the process)*, get their share of the cake before the CRRAV. Lastly, the association has to deal with “the blatant bad faith of certain production companies to provide the relevant account transactions or ticket sales for their productions.” At least there’s no mistaking their answer!
The result of all this is that the CRRAV received an average of 235,000 Euros a year between 2001 et 2010. “It’s extremely rare that the CRRAV gets its money back on a film“, the Regional Audit Chamber concludes. Even if the CRRAV has made clear “efforts towards transparency” concerning films sponsored, the Chamber points to certain murky areas. Starting with the total film budget that does not appear in the financial reports: impossible to measure the region’s contribution in consequence. Worse still, the budgets presented are only “provisional”, which means that one never knows what the final expenditure really was…
The project selection criteria leave a lot to be desired too. Four times a year, a reading committee composed of professionals chooses the lucky “winners”. Producers, authors and directors who have obtained aid in the past as well as people nominated by the CRRAV are on the committee… In other words, a private circle of people who know each other and where a bit of mutual back scratching may well go on. “The Regional Audit Chamber recommends that the selection process is formalized, with procedural rules for granting aid or having a committee member replaced by a deputy for part or all of the selection meeting if the member should have any link, even indirectly, with the person or company seeking aid“, the report stipulates. So as to make sure that there are no family members, long standing colleagues or bosses to whom a committee member might feel indebted in some way… In the meantime, we will never know how Un Conte de Noël by Arnaud Desplechin, Bienvenue chez les ch’tis or Le Scaphandre et le papillon were chosen.
* See (in French) http://www.cnc.fr/web/fr/sofica#
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