MEDIA programme: A success story for European film distribution

by Isabella Weber


Ever since its creation in 1991 the MEDIA programme has pursued the objective of increasing the circulation of European films within and beyond Europe. The reason is simple: such films have the ability of carrying the values of the European cultural identity. When in 2014 the programme was reshaped under the Creative Europe programme, its core purposes were reconfirmed: “to safeguard, develop and promote European cultural and linguistic diversity, to promote Europe’s cultural heritage and to strengthen the competitiveness of the European cultural and creative sectors, in particular of the audiovisual sector.” Since the beginning, two specific schemes were put in place to support the challenges of the distribution sector and help European films to circulate. The MEDIA Automatic Support scheme is assigned to films based upon their performance on the non-national European markets (so after the cinema release), to encourage distributors to further reinvest in new non-national European films. The grant, proportional to the number of paying admission tickets sold, can be used by the distributors for buying new films or to support editing costs (prints, dubbing and subtitling), promotion costs and publicity costs. The second distribution support from MEDIA is the Selective: this support is granted to groups of minimum 7 European distributors to finance the promotion costs for the release of the selected film in each territory of the grouping. While the Automatic scheme is directly linked to the films’ box office success, the Selective one is designed to also support “more fragile” films. These funds help the independent film distribution sector (mainly formed of micro and small-sized enterprises) to sustain its activities throughout the year. Distributors in fact do take a lot of risks when releasing a film and most of their investments are not subsidized otherwise. It is thanks to local distributors, who have the marketing expertise to work within a specific National context, that European non-national films can meet an audience out of their native markets.

And European films do indeed circulate!  A research recently published by the European Audiovisual Observatory showed that, despite the difficulties, non-national films do circulate in Europe, mostly in cinemas, where they constitute 31% of the total film offering (read more). Today, thanks to the MEDIA programme, audiences across Europe can enjoy a large variety of European films that would not otherwise make it across borders. Finnish film lovers have the possibility of discovering the Hungarian winner of the Golden Bear (On Body and Soul) and find it on 18 screens instead of 4; over 100 thousand Polish spectators get to discover German humour with Toni Erdmann while in a country like Portugal, where non-national films struggle to meet an audience, the Italian Perfect Strangers conquers 22.000 admissions thanks to a large and tailored made marketing campaign.

If it is hard to evaluate the cultural or emotional impact of a film release in a territory, it is possible however to clearly see how much the MEDIA funds have helped European films to circulate out of their production territories, encouraging passionate independent distributors to take more calculated risks and bring films they love to an audience that they know like no one else.


Six Polish Stories, by Gutek Film

“I can’t imagine running successfully a company which focuses on EU productions without a support of Media Selective. It works for all of us at Gutek, as a significant reduction of risk, which is always very high in case of a distribution of European films, but first of all as an encouragement to take chances and prepare wide promotional campaigns for films which compete in the market for the audiences, not only at arthouse cinemas but also multiplexes.”

Here six examples of European films that met the Polish audience thanks to MEDIA financing: Son of Saul (72,000 admissions), Toni Erdmann (80,000 admissions), Mustang (67,000 admissions), The Square (98,000 admissions), Rams (51,000 admissions) and The Brand New Testament (105,000 admissions).

“Thanks to the support from Media Selective we could think big in each case and reach cumulatively almost 500,000 admissions in Poland with 6 unique European films,which could compete, thanks to the wide and various campaigns, for general audience’s attention. And they won it.”

(Jakub Duszyński, Artistic Director of Gutek Film, Poland)


How do European films warm up Norway audience, by Arthaus

“The support from Media gives us the possibility to make European films the most important films in our line-up. The audience knows that we are continuously bringing the best of European films to the Norwegian cinemas. I believe distribution nowadays is built on trust and with the support from Media, we can establish this long-time relationship with our audience.

The Salt of the Earth by Wim WendersBarbara by Christian PetzoldIda by Pawel PawlikowskiSon of Saul by Lazlo NemesGraduation by Cristian Mungiu, The Unknown Girl by the Dardenne brothersOn Body and Soul by Ildiko Enyedi and BPM (Beats Per Minute) by Robin Campillo are some recent wonderful European films supported by the Selective Media scheme. Thanks to the support, we have been able to invite directors to Norway to meet the press and audience, and to give the films much better and bigger releases. The Selective Support system makes it possible to compete with the domestic and American films in a very competitive market place.

With the Automatic scheme, we have been able to release “smaller” films like Western by Valeska Grisebach24 Weeks by Anne Zohra BerrachedSong of the Sea by Tomm MooreStations of the Cross by Dietrich Brüggeman and Gett – The Trial of Viviane Amsalem by Ronit and Shlomi Elkabetz.

For Arthaus these two support systems have made it possible to both release bigger European films with more power and give smaller films a chance in Norwegian cinemas. Media has indeed secured a diversity of the theatrically released films in Norway.

For these films to stand out in the more and more competitive market we need to organize preview screenings inviting target groups, organizations, institutions, influencers, bloggers and people who can help us build up the word of mouth. It is almost impossible to advertise these films to a success. You must instead build up good relations to a wide network of people becoming good ambassadors for your films. With the support from Media we have been able to run several projects to make Arthaus a stable and continuous distributor of exciting European films in Norway. We are defined as a curator of excellent films and the audience knows that a film distributed by Arthaus is always interesting. Thanks to the continuous support from Media we could afford to have one more employee, taking care of digital communication, a position that requires to be alert all the time to publish interesting news and create activities about your films.”

(Svend Jensen, CEO of Arthaus, in Norway)


European film-hits in Spain? ¡Claro que sí!

When Eduardo Escudero, partner and business manager of A Contracorriente, talks of the way his company started in 2010, with 4 people – one of whom only working part-time – and grew in only eight years to hire 22 employees, happiness and pride shine in his eyes. A Contracorriente is today the 7th distribution company in Spain, right after the big studios, with a library of over 800 titles, 60% of which are Europeans. Here are some of the recent European titles whose successful release have been substantially supported by MEDIA funds: Serial (Bad) Weddings (400.000 admissions), Little White Lies (250.000), Quo Vado? (300.000), Two is a Family  (500.000), Benvenuti al Sud (350.000), The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared (250.000).

“The financial strength that we gain from releasing more commercial titles is the condition that allows us to take on projects that we believe to be culturally relevant and of high level even if we know they will not perform well commercially. When buying old classics from Italy, Sweden or France we enrich our library and offer the chance to a new generation of Spanish audience to appreciate European cinema.  The funds we receive for distribution are essential to preserve this delicate ecosystem.”


…more Portuguese, Belgian, French and Italian successes

Can you find Spanish animation films abroad? Yes, and they also speak Portuguese thanks to Media Automatic Scheme. It was the case for Ozzy that was brought to 55 screens and made 100.000 admissions. Outsider Films could finance a large TV campaign that helped the film staying in some cinemas for 12 weeks.

In Belgium Cinéart had the possibility to create larger promotional campaigns for films like Happy End and Son of Saul and thanks to the MEDIA support, both films could touch new and wider groups of citizens.

In Syria (Belgian-French-Lebanese co-production) was released in France by KMBO and thanks to the MEDIA Selective support the company could afford to spend €200.000 on P&A and the campaign helped the film to reach almost 60 thousand admissions. The film, first presented at the Berlinale in 2017, where it had won the Label Europa Cinemas, had a remarkable festival and award career.

Successful cinema releases can help films to circulate also after the end of their theatre exploitation, giving the opportunity to a different audience to discover them. In Italy this was the case for Cristian Mungiu’s Graduation. The visibility that BIM obtained for the film while it was in the cinemas – achieved with a large and effective campaign supported with the MEDIA funds – ensured later the interest of TVs and VoD channels.


And without the MEDIA support?

Distributors do not hesitate and answer unanimously to this question. It would be a complete disaster. “We would reduce the number of films released probably by 1/3 and we would also have to reduce the team by 1/3 as well.  This means that some European films would not circulate in Belgium anymore and that people would lose their job,” states Stephan De Potter, CEO of Cinéart. According to Svend Jensen, CEO of Arthaus, in Norway without the Media support European releases would be less frequent and lose impact. “I am afraid most of the European films would never become visible and just drown in an overcrowded marketplace”.

Antonio Medici, CEO of the Italian distribution company BIM offers a comprehensive and gloomy vision of the independent distribution business without MEDIA: “Without the MEDIA programme there would be a consistent reduction in the circulation of European non-national films. We are talking about films that largely count on cinema release to survive, as TV sales have become an exception for European films, and the VoD market tends to concentrate on blockbusters. So it is up to independent distributors to work on such titles and we could not possibly do it without the MEDIA plan guaranteeing some financial sustainability and making it possible to buy European quality films. Without this, independent distributors would stop buying European films and without distributors those titles would not have any visibility on non-national markets. Without the MEDIA plan, European films would lose their possibility to stay competitive towards different kind of films, as they already find themselves in a highly disadvantaged market position competing against USA films, that find far more easily their audience in every sector of the market (cinema, video, TV, VoD…) and National films, that can count on larger and larger local subsidies.”

And Medici concludes: “We can think of better ways to improve the MEDIA programme and making it more efficient, but we must be aware that without this support, European non-national films would disappear from the market. And along with them many SME engaged in independent films distribution would be forced to shut down with negative impact on the employment, which I presume to be a priority for all national and European institutions.”

Europa Distribution, the association for European independent film distributors, has answered to the European Commission Open Consultation on 8 March stressing its members concern over the potential budgetary cuts in the MEDIA program and highlighting the importance of the support to independent distribution for the circulation of European films.  You can read is full answer of the Consultation on EU funds in the area of values and mobility here.

Laurent Dutoit, co-president of Europa Distribution and CEO of Agora Films in Switzerland, reflects upon the challenges European cinema faces in the film market of today and takes into exam what he considers to be the two most important goals of the MEDIA program. “The MEDIA support is essential to give the biggest arthouse films, from recognized European directors and winners of the major European festivals, the possibility of reaching their full potential on a wide scale and compete with US big production. On the other side, MEDIA has a responsibility also towards the “smallest” and less commercial titles, those that define the European production, that come from low capacity countries and that show our cultural diversity.”

Stefano Massenzi, elected co-president of the association in 2017 and Head of Acquisitions and Business Affairs of the Italian distribution and production company Lucky Red, considers the reasons that brought the existence of the Selective and Automatic schemes over 20 years ago extremely valid today. “The MEDIA program was also created to bridge the gaps left open by the existing National and local funds. While both for cultural and industrial reasons the local production has always been strongly supported at National level, supporting the circulation of European films out of their native markets was considered a priority task for the European Union to undertake. The linguistic and cultural diversity that constitute the European strength in fact also makes European films more fragile in the global market. In this sense the MEDIA programme has been acting over the years to help European films to be on the same level field as their competitors from National markets or from the big American studios. It has reinforced the independent distribution sector that today counts a much larger variety of SMEs involved in the distribution of European titles. In Italy during the recent discussions about the new public funding system, the MEDIA Automatic scheme was shown as an example of efficiency. Today any measure that strengthen the distribution sector helps the whole value chain, as financially stable distributors can reinvest in buying and promoting even more European titles.”

Over the last 27 years the MEDIA program has enhanced European films to travel, carrying their cultural diversity values across borders, and promoting a European culture. Thanks to MEDIA’s support, citizens have enjoyed an alternative to National productions and American mainstream movies. In a difficult time for Europeans, who struggle to define a European identity and to look across borders, cinema can represent a strong vehicle to overcome the barriers and to get to know one-another, learning each other’s stories and understanding each other a little better. After having shared a laugh or a tear with a fictional character from a different nation, speaking a different language and coming from a different background, we might realize that all these differences are not as substantial as we had thought.