Olivier Barlet, Africultures, le 27 mai 2005 – 2005/05/27
As UNESCO negotiates a Convention on Cultural Diversity “focused on international cooperation, to be adopted in October 2005, CNC organized a symposium on La diversité culturelle, dialogues entre les cinéastes du Sud in Cannes, in partnership with SACD, TV5, and Agence intergouvernementale de la Francophonie (AIF) and with the support of partners from Pavillon Cinémas du Sud and the French Coalition for Cultural Diversity. This symposium brought together representatives of coalitions for cultural diversity from Chile, Argentina, Mexico, Morocco, Burkina Faso, Korea, and France to hear from filmmakers from a number of countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America concerning work toward cultural diversity and spur dialog on these countries’ specific needs and situations in terms of cultural diversity.
It also gave attendees the opportunity to “emphasize the immediacy of the danger threatening countries of the South, where cultural expression will be increasingly compromised by globalization if they fail to have ‘cultural exception’ included in the economic agreements in the works on freer trade in goods and services.” “At a time when an African country like Morocco only secured its sovereignty over national audiovisual materials at the very last minute in a bilateral trade agreement it recently signed with the United States and the U.S. has entered into bilateral economic negotiations with Tunisia, the Cannes round table demonstrated the enormity of the fight to control audiovisual materials—a fight that will continue to grow until the date set by UNESCO,” explained an observer.
Thus, according to Miguel Necoechea (Mexican Coalition for Cultural Diversity), Mexican cinematographic production has dropped by 72% due to the invasion of the market by U.S. products. From 2000 to 2004, only 102 films were produced, because of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). He cites Canada as an example, since it did not include culture in NAFTA. This was not the case for Mexico: “In 2004, 280 films were released in Mexican theaters: 166 were American, controlling 2,500 of the country’s 3,000 big screens and attracting 150 million viewers a year.” The result, he concluded, is “the closure of production houses, unemployment, and a drop in Mexican film exports. The relationship with the public has broken down; loyalty has dwindled and the American mindset dominates. Filmmakers are lobbying for an amendment to the free trade agreement, but the United States is placing enormous pressure on governments.” Necoechea believes that the UNESCO Convention on Cultural Diversity should “provide for retroactive steps” to remedy this situation.
Nabil Ayouch (Moroccan Coalition for Cultural Diversity) says what happened in Mexico is also happening in Morocco: “It has been 2 to 3 years since the United States signed free trade agreements with some thirty countries. Negotiations were held to the distress of filmmakers and in secrecy (…) The U.S. is negotiating a “package deal” to throw the border to both countries open. It’s David and Goliath, an unmanageable matchup. The entertainment industry is one of the top revenue sources for the United States, some years even surpassing aeronautics. We look like protectionists, opponents to trade. It’s easy to caricature. Those who are fighting for diversity are not fighting for withdrawal, but openness. In Morocco, debate is growing. Now that the agreement has been signed and is being put into action, opinions are flying. We’re asking for a quota policy, but have been able to make it compulsory.”
On the other hand, according to Nemesio Juarez (Argentine Coalition for Cultural Diversity), the critical crisis of December 2001 may have practically destroyed Argentina, but a classic law to protect and fund the cinematography industry came out of the fight, along with a support and solidarity fund. However, Argentina controls only 25% of its film market share. “The rest is in the hands of the U.S. majors.”
For his part, Kim Hong-Joon (Korean Coalition for Cultural Diversity) asserts that Korea is a unique example, with its “screen quota” system requiring all big screens in Korea to show 40% Korean films. However, the United States asked Korea to abolish its quotas in 1999 as a precondition to its signing the U.S./Korea bilateral investment agreement allowing U.S. capital to circulate freely in Korea, “which opened eyes both in the industry and among the public.” It’s a constant fight, he says: “For the rebirth of Korean cinema, we need the UNESCO convention as a weapon.”
As for Chile, Bruno Bettati (Chilean Coalition for Cultural Diversity) points out that a free trade agreement was signed in 2002 with the United States: “professionals asked for an exception, but only obtained a reserve fund. This allows us to continue funding the cinematography industry, but not to set quotas or provide tax breaks.” Cheick Ngaïdo Bâ (Senegalese Coalition for Cultural Diversity) follows the same line of thought, declaring “in bilateral agreements, the United States has too much power. Agreements should be multilateral.” [05-17]