Saturday, August 31, 2013

and now for something completely different: MIGUEL GOMES ON THE CURRENT STATE OF PORTUGUESE CINEMA

The following is an op-ed piece director Miguel Gomes (Tabu) and his long-time producer Luís Urbano of O Som e a Fúria prepared to accompany the short film Redemption premiering at this year's Venice Film Festival. The piece was given out to press at Venice and published as an op-ed in the August 31 edition of daily newspaper Público (paywalled). Translation mine.

PORTUGUESE CINEMA: THE ALARM BELLS RING

Miguel Gomes
Luís Urbano

Once more the alarm bells ring: Portuguese cinema is in danger. After a year zero, 2012, when the Portuguese State did not open their usual production support tenders for new films, the ghost of another stoppage in the sector is a very real menace.

But where does this menace come from? Is it from the Portuguese economic crisis? No, since the current government has sketched a new Film Act that allows the Institute for Cinema and Audiovisual (ICA) to earn its own income, allocated separately from the state budget, originating from the financial contributions that television operators in the Portuguese territory are bound to pay by law.

Does this menace come from the new act not having been enacted? No, because after 18 months of public discussion of the Act and of its regulatory decrees - we can't remember a law that was so widely discussed - it was finally ratified and enacted.

But if the Act is ratified and created by the same government that must now enact it - a government still in function, as there is no public knowledge of any kind of coup - its non-observance would be the manifestation of a surreal case of misgovernment in the Republic.

Let us thus end with this suspense and confirm the surreality. The main contributors for the new Act refuse to pay the monies owed, and the competent ministry pretends nothing's happening. The cable television operators are taking advantage of the current government's lack of strength and political conviction and announce they do not plan to pay the monies the Act demands from them. They're probably throwing stuff at the wall to see if it sticks, aiming for a renegotiation of the Act, using the possibility of a long legal battle that would paralyse the film sector for years as a blackmailing strategy. The government itself is accepting this blackmail by not coming out to defend the Act it has created, debated and enacted. It should be remembered that, in the area of culture in Portugal, the buck stops with the most powerful figure in the Portuguese political parliamentary regime, the prime-minister, since the Culture Ministry has been extinguished (by this same government) and replaced by a secretary of state. As for the non-observance of the law and the emergency situation it creates, no thoughts or emotions from Mr. Passos Coelho are known... On the other hand, in a government that has shown no mercy about fiscal non-observance from individual taxpayers, it's stunning to realise that, over the last week, they have given the green light to the merger of two of the non-complying companies, Zon and Optimus! Out of curiosity: since both companies started their merger, in December 2012, Zon alone rose 47% in the stock exchange.

Now, to the companies that refuse to follow the letter of the law:

- Zon Audiovisuais, a group 28,8% owned by Ms. Isabel dos Santos (does she happen to know that the company she owns in Portugal is non-compliant to the Portuguese fiscal authorities), concentrating currently 61,5% of the film distribution business, 57,6% of the film exhibition business, 100% of pay-TV film channels, 50,2% of cable television and internet access, 27% of landline telephone networks and 1% of mobile cellphone networks;

- Portugal Telecom (PT), owner of 58% of landline telephone networks, 45% of mobile cellphone networks, and 39,2% of cable television;

- Vodafone Portugal, corresponding to 40% of mobile cellphone networks and 1,6% of cable television and internet access;

- Optimus, with 14% of mobile cellphone networks and 1,2% of cable television and internet access;

- and Cabovisão, with 7,8% of the cable television and internet market.

(sources: Anacom and ICA)

This non-compliance has prevented the ICA of receiving 12 million euros by the end of July 2013. The (few) reasons made public by the non-complying companies (the alleged unconstitutionality of the Act, and its alleged non-compliance with European law) will hardly be proven in Portuguese courts or in a European jurisprudence that has similar mechanisms to finance film in its respective countries. The European Commission has already denied any non-compliance of the Portuguese Act with European law. Internally, the new Cinema Act merely takes over and enlarges the financing mechanisms from previous acts, mechanisms that have been kept in place since the beginning of the 1970s without ever having being declared unconstitutional.

As for the government, it is the same government that calmly and unmoved is watching the hollowing out of the Portuguese Cinemathèque and of the National Archive of the Moving Image, whose financing model has run out as well. And the opposition parties silently watch the parade go by as a Summer distraction.

In the film we are now premiering at Venice, Redemption, we have used archival footage from Portuguese films, supplied by the National Archive of the Moving Image, an institution that deals with the preservation of the Portuguese film memory and that now announces it may have to shut down. And, in a strange astral conjunction - or maybe not... - this same film features as characters and narrators some of the political leaders that have led European governments over the past decade, Passos Coelho among them... Though we do not want to reveal the film to those who haven't seen it, we do believe that redemption is always a possibility for everyone, even for these gentlemen.

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