France’s Culture Minister Talks About Streamers, #MeToo, Soft Quotas, $378 Million Investment in Film, TV

France’s culture minister Rima Abdul-Malak gave her first interview with the international press at the Cannes Film Festival where she unveiled a plan to invest €350 million ($378 million) in the film and TV industry. Abdul-Malak also addressed some hot topics that are currently being debated within the industry, such as the windowing rules for streamers, the protests over the pension reform, the rise of the far right and criticism of France’s #MeToo movement.

The government-investment initiative, called the Grande Fabrique de l’Image, is meant to bolster France’s position as a leader in film, TV and video games production, studio facilities, post-production, as well as film and TV training. The funding will go to 68 projects that were selected from 175 applicants by two committees, one of which is headed by filmmaker Cedric Jimenez (“November,” “The Stronghold”). Among the selected projects are 11 studio facilities, 12 animation studios, six video games studios, five visual effects and post production houses, and 34 training programs.

“We want to support the development of filming facilities and training schools (…) because we have a real need of new talents, and we also have to [be] more inclusive and more open to social diversity,” said Abdul-Malak, a French-Lebanese official who took over from Roselyne Bachelot as culture minister in 2022. She pointed out the goal was to double up the number of talent working in the industry from 5,000 today to 10,000 by 2030.

Abdul-Malak said film and TV productions have a “huge economic impact” because when you “shoot a film, if €1 million is spent in filming, it brings €7.6 of economic impact for the area around hotels, restaurants and local jobs.” That said, the tax rebate for international productions isn’t meant to be increase beyond the current 30% (and up to 40% when the movie is VFX-intensive) until 2024 because that’s when it will be up for a revision by the French parliament.

Abdul-Malak also discussed the current protests over the unpopular pension reform that has pushed the retirement age by two years, from 62 to 64. The country has been rocked by protests and strikes for the last three months, and as many as 300 industry figures, including Juliette Binoche and Laure Calamy, signed an open letter to demand the withdrawal of the reform. She said the labor union and the industry should be more worried about the rise of the far right, which has gained tremendous political ground, notably within the senate, and pose a threat to the country’s diverse cultural offering.

“Whenever there is a crisis in France you feel lots of anger and fears are expressed … Everyone wants to defend their own interest and sometimes we lack a sense of collective awareness. But I think the major danger is the far right,” she said, adding that the far right is currently “targeting exhibitions, performances, asking for the cancellation of events, and they suggest that we should only support [content] promoting France history.”

She said quotas are still out of the question in France because the country doesn’t allow for ethnic statistics, but she argued that such regulations aren’t crucial to bring about change.

“I think this debate over ethnic diversity is too narrow. I’m from Arabic origin. I’m Lebanese. But I don’t want to be labeled as Arabic because I feel our identity is much more diverse than that. In France, diversity is a social question. It’s not only an ethnic question,” she said.

Speaking about the windowing rules, which sets the sequence of rights on theatrical movies for exhibitors, pay and free TV channels and subscription-based services, the culture minister revealed that negotiations were reopened in October, only 10 months after being renewed.

“We decided to reopen discussions earlier than what was initially planned and we’re still in this process because the government is more as a mediation between all the parties. We need to preserve our network of theaters, because we have 2,000 theaters in France and French people are very much attached to this network that resisted quite well after the COVID time. But it’s also time to move a little bit the windows,” said Abdul-Malak.

The minister pointed out the two windows that are going to be shortened are the pay VOD window, and the VOD for free-to-channel, which clashed with the SVOD and prompted Disney to pull the theatrical release of “Strange World” last fall.

Abdul-Malak also explained her decision to renew the mandate of Dominique Boutonnat, the president of the National Film Board (CNC), even though he’s currently indicted for alleged sexual assault and facing trial.

“His trial hasn’t happened yet. The presumption of innocence is a fundamental principle for our democracy. I respect that right. I’m not going to substitue myself of the judicial system and take decisions when the trial hasn’t happened,” she said.

People in the industry have flagged the irony of the CNC making it mandatory to complete training to present sexual misconduct on set when the org’s president is under indicted, but Abdul-Malak presented these initiatives as part of Boutonnat’s track record.

“The CNC was the first public organization to set measures to fight against sexist and sexual harassment and violence, and to set bonuses for shoots that have gender parity. So we had no doubt that Dominique Boutonnat was going to pursue with determination this mandate.”

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