Supporting European cinema in a digital era
by Piotr Borys
Film needs to be looked at as a tool of culture and as an important branch of European industry
The report "European cinema in the digital area", which has recently been voted and adopted unanimously by the Culture Committee of the European Parliament, serves first and foremost as an invitation to consider the very function of cinema: what role does it play in the new digital era? Cinema needs to be looked at two-dimensionally, on one hand as a tool of culture where investments produce long-term intangible results, on the other hand as an important branch of European industry. Creation is the heart of culture, whereas industry is its lungs.
We currently find ourselves at a crucial juncture; the arrival of the digital era presents us with new challenges and opportunities. It presents fantastic possibilities for filmmakers, who meet these challenges head on by combining their artistic skills with the technological means on offer. The success of 3D films means that viewers' expectations are constantly increasing. The digitisation of cinemas in Europe comes in response to these needs and introduces cinema-goers to a whole new viewing experience, with new standards such as 2K, 4K and a new quality of projection.
Digital technology also affects the distribution of films via linear and non-linear platforms such as the Internet or VOD, which facilitate citizens' access to European cinema. For many art-house and low-budget films, which do not have access to the cinema or do not make it to film festivals - digitisation presents the possibility to reach wider audiences. Another breakthrough for the popularisation of films is the easiness of adding multiple foreign language subtitles to the digital copy of a film. This greatly facilitates the cross-border dissemination of films in the European Union. Member states' introduction of film education at all levels of schooling is also of vital importance. This long-term investment in young viewers is essential to develop their ability to critically respond to the images and language of film, and to foster an appreciation for film as an art form.
Member states and European institutions need to take responsibility for cinema, if it is to receive the support it needs. The digital transition presents opportunities in the areas of production, distribution and accessibility of cinema. The transition process should be finalised without delay and coordinated at both national and European levels. Financial models are, of course, required to do this - seeing as equipping cinemas with digital projectors, especially small and independent cinemas in rural or under-developed regions, remains prohibitively expensive. The cinema is often the only meeting place for residents of towns or villages and should, therefore, be protected from closure and assisted financially. Differentiated and flexible financial models for the digitisation of cinemas such as structural funds, preferential loans provided by the European Investment Bank, funds from the MEDIA programme or mechanisms integrating distributors and exhibitors could be an effective solution.
Digitisation is a priority and should be looked at in a longer-term perspective, which takes into account continuous technological innovation and the future necessity to adapt to newer screening formats. National responsibility for collecting and cataloguing audio visual works for the benefit of future generations is also part of this. As with every living being, the health of European cinema depends on the functioning of each of its organs in unison. Effective cooperation of the film industry and the support of member states and of the European institutions are essential. The report "European Cinema in digital Era" sends a clear political signal to the film industry and commits us to take concrete action to support our creatives.
Piotr Borys is a Polish MEP and member of the European People's Party Group in the European Parliament
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