Rima Abdul Malak - French Minister of Culture and Ambassador Niall Burgess
Rima Abdul Malak - French Minister of Culture and Ambassador Niall Burgess

Scannain reports from the signing of the new Irish/French Co-Production Treaty

Enfin! as they say in French. At long last, we have a basic instrument that will further encourage collaboration with French filmmakers.

On Dec 12th Ireland signed a bilateral co-production agreement with our now closest EU neighbour for whom Ireland has up-scaled its strategic objectives on all fronts, including cinema.

The accord was signed at the French Ministry of Culture in Paris by the French Culture Minister, Rima Abdul Malek and the Irish Ambassador to France, Niall Burgess.

France is the largest European audiovisual industry, with 340 films produced in 2021 (for €1.12bn invested) of which 75 were foreign majority co-productions and 68 were French majority co-productions. This agreement will afford Irish filmmakers new opportunities in funding, as well as access to audiences and, perhaps, new creative influences in cinematic storytelling.

Both countries already have among the highest per capita levels of cinema attendance in Europe, although the French are also the leaders in national share of their own box office and other film revenues.

The first ever cinema ticket was sold in Paris in 1895 – the birth of the film trade perhaps –  and the French companies Pathé and Gaumont both developed the Studio system and dominated the US market up to WW1. They are also pioneers in legislation ensuring funding for their industry from national TV channels and foreign streaming services alike that in turn inspires others.

France notably spearheaded the Cultural Exception in international trade agreements, “a political concept that treats cultural goods and services differently from other traded goods and services because of the intrinsic differences of such goods and services… for they encompass values, identity and meanings that go beyond their strictly commercial value.”

It’s true that the Council of Europe multilateral treaty already affords the possibility to coproduce with France. However, the specific intention to collaborate à deux emphasised in a bilateral treaty offers the possibility to set up customised mechanisms that aim at mutual benefits by profiting from each other’s strengths. At a glance, these might be extra funding, marketing and audience possibilities for Irish films. An apparent advantage for the French might be to engage more intimately with the only English-language EU nation. A number of French producers already profitably operate out of London, despite Brexit.

One of many potential mechanisms might well be a designated co-development fund. One such fund exists with France and Italy, where two respective producers apply together for co-development funding. Thus, from conception, a film project already has dual nationality, making it eligible for the particular advantages each country may have to offer.

The key to optimising this new agreement will be to pay sincere attention to the importance of reciprocity, both cultural and economic, while deploying proper resources to this new strategic instrument. Otherwise, it will flounder and become dormant as is the case with many such well-intentioned agreements.

So, “aux armes citoyens”, there’s work to be done. And as Rick says to Captain Renault the last scene of Casablanca: “Louis, I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship”

Screen Ireland’s statement:

On behalf of Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland, I am delighted to welcome the signing of the Agreement between the Government of Ireland and the Government of the French Republic on Cinematographic Co-Production today. We would like to thank Minister Catherine Martin for her support on ensuring Irish/French partnerships in film continue to grow. This Treaty is a fantastic opportunity for Ireland to build closer working relationships with French producers and production companies, and to tell cultural stories across both nations, recognising our countries’ shared values and distinct offerings as cinematic storytellers. As a result of this new agreement, we’re looking forward to creating more feature films for the big screen together, as we continue to champion European co-production for decades to come.

Susan Bergin, Chair of the Board – Fís Éireann/Screen Ireland

At the signing event, both the Ambassador and French Minister of Culture spoke about the shared passion for cinema in both countries and the importance of supporting cultural diversity and European unity.

Building on already strong and existing relationships in animation between France and Ireland, which has resulted in Academy Award-nominated animated films like Wolfwalkers and The Breadwinner, this treaty will enable Ireland to develop a closer working relationship with French producers and production companies. If a project is certified as an official co-production, it confers national status of all the co-production territories to that project and is effectively regarded as a national production in each of the co-producing territories. The production is then eligible to benefit from local territory benefits in the co-producing country such as broadcast licence fees, access to tax incentives, regional subsidies and the local distribution market. It was also announced yesterday that a Franco-Irish industry workshop would take place at the Cannes Festival in May 2023 to encourage and facilitate co-production projects between both France and Ireland.

This combination of pooled financing, talent and skilled crew makes the partnership beneficial for both countries – joining the long and illustrious history of French cinema together with Ireland’s establishment as a global production hub in recent years.

The signing of this Co-Production Agreement will lead to benefits for the industry in Ireland and will incentivise work between our two film industries. The bilateral basis of the Agreement allows for cultural stories to be told across both territories, recognising our shared values and opening up access to a wider talent pool based in both France and Ireland. There is great potential now to deepen the cultural conversation between Ireland and France further and create further employment opportunities.

Catherine Martin T.D., Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media

Today’s historic signing ceremony of the co-production agreement in Paris will facilitate cultural and creative exchange between France and Ireland.  We look forward to fostering and deepening relations with our colleagues in France as a result of the signing of this co-production agreement.

Niall Burgess, Ambassador of Ireland to France

The Agreement will be the second such Agreement between Ireland and an EU Member State, after a Co-Production Agreement with Luxembourg was established in 2011.

France has co-production agreements with all other EU states and, across the globe, many others besides.