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France Claims Trade Victory, But Hollywood Wins At Box Office With AM-GATT Trade, Bjt

December 14, 1993

PARIS (AP) _ France declared victory Tuesday in its battle to limit U.S. dominance of European movie and TV screens. But if the customer is always right, Hollywood can feel good about its long-term prospects.

As French politicians, movie moguls and entertainers celebrated success in a thorny dispute with the U.S. audiovisual industry, filmgoers were leaving no doubt about their preferences.

Seven of the eight best-drawing films in Paris this week are American. The No. 1 hit, Walt Disney’s ″Aladdin,″ was outdrawing the top French film by a 6-1 margin and breaking all-time French records for a feature cartoon.

Nonetheless, French officialdom was elated to triumph over American negotiators, who finally abandoned efforts to include films and TV programs in a nearly completed revison of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade.

″We got what we wanted from the beginning,″ Communications Minister Alain Carignon said. ″This a great and beautiful victory for Europe and for French culture,″

″It’s not a victory of one country over another,″ said former Culture Minister Jack Lang, ″It’s a victory for art and artists over the commercialization of culture.″

But Hollywood officials dismissed French concern about cultural identity and said they would maintain pressure on American negotiators to get concessions.

″This isn’t about culture. It’s about money,″ said George Vradenburg, executive vice president of Fox Inc., who was in Geneva to monitor the trade talks.

Leaders of France’s film and TV industries applauded their government for holding firm, and said they and their European colleagues were now better- placed to compete in new audiovisual technologies.

″We came very close to catastrophe,″ said Jean-Jacques Beinex, one of France’s top young film directors. ″Now, we must must get down to work, because the American lobbies won’t disarm.″

Carignon said the U.S. retreat meant Parliament could proceed to enact a law stipulating that French music must account for at least 40 percent of the music broadcast by FM radio stations - more than double the current average.

″The public has to be conditioned,″ singer Charles Aznavour said last week in backing the quotas. ″They get used to foreign sounds even if they’re inferior to our own. The radio stations help develop a taste for music - and it’s a bad taste.″

France, like much of Western Europe, already has quotas for TV shows - no more than 40 percent of a station’s programming can be made outside the 12- nation European Community.

France has no quotas on movie theater offerings, but it subsidizes its film industry with an 11 percent surcharge on box-office receipts. U.S. negotiators had hoped to scrap the surcharge and the TV quotas.

U.S. movies hold 60 percent of the market in France, and 72 percent across the EC. By contrast, French films account for less than 1 percent of the U.S. market - their distribution is severely limited by an assumption that American viewers dislike subtitles and dubbing.

Audiovisual products are the United States’ No. 2 export after commercial aircraft, and sales of American films, TV shows and video cassettes to the EC totaled $3.7 billion last year. The EC’s audiovisual exports to the U.S. totaled $300 million.

Guillermo Jimenez, an American who works on audiovisual issues for the International Chamber of Commerce in Paris, suggested European directors focus more on the popular appeal of their movies and less on high-brow qualities.

″Just as the Americans did a remake of ‘Three Men and a Baby,’ the French should consider a remake of ‘Porky’s,’ shocking as this might sound,″ he wrote in Tuesday’s International Herald Tribune.

″Everybody loves trashy popular films... If the Europeans want part of this market, they have got to make trashy films as well as the Americans do.″

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