The basic strategies for co-productions have changed little in more recent decades; what has changed are the increasingly complicated subsidy and funding structures initiated and drawn upon and the scale of international players now engaged in the business. A decline in treaty co-productions in the 1970s was due not to deliberate strategy but to the intrusion of television onto the scene. In the 1980s television became an important financier of co-productions, both nationally and internationally. Since then, several broadcasters have consistently been involved in co-financing short and feature films, especially Channel 4, the BBC, and FilmFour in Britain; RAI in Italy; Antenne 2 and Canal Plus in France; ADR and ZDF in Germany; and the combined PBS stations in the United States. Co-production with cable television companies is on the increase in the United States, where HBO is an especially important partner. Among European broadcasters, the Franco-German cultural channel ARTE has co-produced since 1990 more than two hundred films, many of which have involved the participation of several countries. ( Dancer in the Dark [Lars von Trier, 2000] currently holds the record of eleven nations.)
The co-financing model has proven an increasingly attractive option, as it bypasses the various laws or bilateral legal frameworks that historically have often rendered treaty co-productions of more than two countries difficult to navigate. Treaties ensure that the resulting product qualifies as "domestic," a category crucial for assuring that co-produced material is eligible for government financing or investor tax credits in terms of national policies. Canada, one of the most proficient co-producers, has more than fifty-five co-production treaties worldwide. The United States, by comparison, has no treaties whatsoever, but works collaboratively with several countries (especially Canada) to make films and television programs through equity partnerships and other forms of private-sector financing. Part of the problem with treaties is that they tend to be one-to-one. Eurimages, established in 1989 by the Council of Europe, tackled the problem head-on by offering funding to its member states for multilateral co-productions, thus eliminating the cumbersome negotiation of several bilateral agreements. The European Convention on Cinematographic Co-production was ratified in 1992 to simplify existing co-production treaties, but producers did not rush to sign it because Eurimages already allowed for multilateral co-production funding without needing to meet the terms for "European elements" outlined by the Convention. Still, the Convention serves the needs of smaller European countries lacking bilateral agreements with larger nations, including territories of the former Eastern Bloc. Whether through co-financing or co-production, most European films made today involve the participation of more than one nation.
The same holds true for the African film industries, whose output is much smaller than that of Europe but nevertheless demonstrates consistent co-production and co-financing of feature films since the 1970s within not only Africa itself but also nations and funding agencies worldwide, especially France, Germany, and Switzerland from the 1980s on. The extensive cinemas of Asia are equally engaged in this practice of filmmaking. Hong Kong and the Philippines were early starters. Hong Kong has co-produced with Taiwan since the 1960s, and it sparked a kung fu craze in the early 1970s through co-production deals with American producers. The Philippines promoted Filipino locations for foreign producers (usually American) to make inexpensive action and exploitation films in the 1970s, as well as more spectacular Vietnam War films such as Apocalypse Now (1979) and Platoon (1986). In India, the National Film Development Corporation was organized in 1980 to develop "quality cinema," becoming involved in the international co-production of features such as Gandhi (1982) and Salaam Bombay! (1988). And co-productions with mainland China, many of them brokered by the China Film Co-production Corporation, became particularly attractive for Hong Kong and Taiwan producers in the 1990s (and American ones in the 2000s) because of the country's natural resources, acting talents, and inexpensive manpower—the Oscar ® -winning The Last Emperor (Bernardo Bertolucci, 1987) being an early example. A scan of the award-winning films of major international film festivals since 1990 reveals not only an extremely high proportion of co-productions—between 60 percent and 70 percent—but also a remarkable geographic range of national partnerships. Even though the Academy Awards ® continues to categorize its nominees for Best Foreign Language Film as deriving from one nation, most of the winners since 1990 have in fact been co-productions— Wo hu cang long ( Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon , 2000) most obviously (although attributed to Taiwan only by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the film in fact represents co-financing and production interests of this country as well as those of Hong Kong, Mainland China, and the United States).
Despite their ubiquity, co-productions continue to be a cause of concern for many in the film industry, particularly in Europe. The category of the "Euro-film," whose mixing of performers from various countries and cultural traditions often yields a so-called "Europudding"—that is, an international co-production that lacks any distinctive national or aesthetic qualities—has sparked considerable debate in recent decades and encapsulates contemporary fears of American cultural and economic imperialism and of the erosion of national cultures in the wake of globalization. "Every film must declare its nationality and its own cultural identity," pronounced French filmmaker Bertrand Tavernier (b. 1941) in 1982 (quoted in Elsaesser, p. 321), and the crisis that marked the 1993 Uruguay round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT), during which film and audiovisual material were eventually excepted from its terms, demonstrates that the tensions that initiated co-productions in the first place have not gone away but, rather, have become magnified. Partnership with international capital through co-financing may lead to blockbusters that reach millions of people worldwide, but they may also come at a heavy price. Although The Fifth Element ( Le Cinquième élément , Luc Besson, 1997), for example, was produced by a French firm (Gaumont), its language, stars, and co-financing are those of Hollywood, and its status as a French film thereby negligible. A fact and a necessity in contemporary filmmaking, co-production remains a practice wherein the benefits and the losses require equal consideration.
SEE ALSO National Cinema
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