CASE STUDY: The Concentration of Power, Influence & Control in the European Industry

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In the past decade and a half, the European film industry has witnessed the emergence of several key organizations, ostensibly designed as tools to support the film industry and filmmakers. However, a closer examination reveals a more complex narrative, one that intertwines issues of power, influence, control and finances. This narrative centers around a small cadre of individuals who have established entities such as the Torino Film Lab, Pop Up Residency, First Cut Lab, and the initiative formerly known as NISI MASA, now operating under the name European Short Pitch.

Matthieu Darras and Wim Vanacker roles with these organizations are documented in their self published biographical information. In addition, Darras was programmer for the Cannes Critics’ Week, consultant for the Venice Film Festival, and worked for many other festivals. Vanacker, too, is member of the Selection Committee for the Official Short Film Competition of the Cannes Film Festival, and served and serves as a consultant and jury member for many other festivals as well.

These organizations have been structured by individuals well-versed in navigating the intricacies of the film industry and its financing in Europe, enabling them to secure public funding effectively.

Once these organizations are established, they invite high-profile filmmakers, producers, sales agents, and festival employees (selection committee members) to assume various roles within their structures. This strategy is not merely about fostering talent and innovation but helps amplifying the organization’s, and the individuals who work for it, significance within the film industry’s broader ecosystem. Through this amplification, these entities gain privileged access to festival decision-makers, in fact some of them ARE festival decision-makers, thereby securing festival selection for the projects that had participated in their various initiatives. This creates a loop which enables the organizations to justify further public financial support:

  1. Selection of projects to the self organized initiatives.
  2. Selection of the same projects to film festivals, by the same people who manage these organizations and work for the festivals.
  3. Justification for further public financing. Selection of new projects – the loop continues.

The process described here is emblematic of a ‘revolving door’ phenomenon, a cycle where producers, festival personnel, decision-makers in European national funds, and private investors create a self-sustaining loop of influence and promotion. Within this closed circuit, power and influence are commodities exchanged to advance personal projects and agendas. This system raises significant questions about transparency and fairness, particularly in light of the public funding that supports much of the European film industry.

The implications of such a system are manifold. On one hand, it leads to a homogenization of cinematic output, as the selection of projects is limited to a small number of people, those who make part of the network – A clear example of this can be seen here. On the other hand, it potentially erects barriers to entry for emerging filmmakers and those outside the established networks, stifling diversity and innovation. As these entities operate with public funds, there is a warranted expectation for them to uphold principles of fairness and equitable access, but this is simply not the case.

Recently we’ve reported that during Matthew Darras’ tenure as the Artistic Director of the Torino Film Lab, his sister, Isabelle Collombat (formerly Isabelle Darras), participated in the lab’s initiatives on two separate occasions. This case serves as a glaringly example, epitomizing the widespread issues prevalent throughout the film industry, particularly within the European film ecosystem, as extensively documented in our numerous articles, embodying nepotism, shamelessly, in its purest form.

The role of key figures such as Darras and Vanacker is pivotal in this narrative. After stepping down from leading the Torino Film Lab in 2019, within weeks, he had established the Pop Up Residency, which serves the same function within the industry ecosystem.

These organizations draw significant amounts of money both from public sources, and from private investors, and present a powerful opportunity for film producers to enable the production of their projects. A vast amount of European films have been produced with the help of these organizations and the funding opportunities that they provide. The problem is that these organizations, as can be seen here, are tightly controlled by a small number of people who may use their decision making powers to gain influence over the industry and serve as powerful gate keepers with tremendous control.

As reported in 2019 Cannes Short Film Award individuals with multiple roles in the industry might find themselves in conflicts of interests, which, while not illegal, are at the minimum controversial practices.

It is important to stress that while systemic issues are being discussed, not every individual or project associated with these organizations is necessarily involved in such practices.

To recap, this instance involves a reciprocal relationship between Vassilis Kekatos, an artistic director of a self organized festival in Greece, and Wim Vanacker, member of the Cannes selection committee, who at the time was the Artistic Director of NISI MASA. Kekatos invited Vanacker to serve as a jury member at his festival in 2018. The same year, Vanacker had invited Kekatos and his producer, Eleni Kossyfidou, to participate in NISI MASA. Notably, Kossyfidou also served as a jury member at the same festival in 2018. A year later Kekatos, with a new short film, was invited to premire in Cannes, where Vanacker is a selection committee member. The new short film was also produced by Kossyfidou, the long standing producer of of Panos H. Koutras, who was a jury member in the committee that had made the decision on awarding Kekatos the Palme d’Or. (Koutras is quoted as telling other directors he had “removed their films from consideration”) This sequence of events illustrates a closed loop of reciprocal favors and positions, highlighting potential conflicts of interest and the intricate web of relationships in the industry.

Another rationale behind these organizations is to bypass national film funds, which may operate beyond the influence of these individuals. In several countries, these funds are specifically designed to deter or diminish nepotism. “Private” entities like the Torino Film Lab emerge as an alternative financing route, “by the producers, for the producers,” offering a platform where greater control and favoritism can be exercised, where the “revolving door” can operate with greater ease. (In other countries, a revolving door is the fund’s policy, as detailed here)

Much can be revealed about these organizations by how they display the names of their founders, members and participants. By prominently listing the organizers and participants on their websites, these groups are not just sharing information; they’re highlighting the exclusivity and prestige of membership. This tactic suggests that being part of these organizations is a privilege, reserved for a select few who are part of the industry’s power centers. Essentially, the lists serve as a symbol of status and influence, indicating that the organization’s primary purpose may be to maintain and elevate the elite status of its members rather than purely pursuing their publicized goals.

Enhanced control and influence is also exerted through the exclusion of individuals not part of the ‘select few.’ Those on the periphery understand the necessity of ‘playing the game’ to avoid marginalization, the process of ‘kissing the ring’. As the industry is dominated by a handful of festivals and key individuals, with major festivals choosing only a limited number of films annually, a narrow gateway to success is created, reinforcing the power of the established few and limiting diversity and opportunity for others.

It is crucial to emphasize the significant reliance of these organizations on public funding. They frequently receive substantial support from major entities like Creative Europe and Eurimages, as well as the Visegrad Fund and various national funds. Additionally, festivals and other institutions, which are themselves beneficiaries of public funds, such as the Cannes Film Festival, also contribute. This widespread use of public funds underscores the need for accountability and transparency in how these organizations operate and allocate resources.

Notice below how the logos of “When East Meets West” and “KVIFF”, where according to his own biography, Darras works for, appear as supporters on the websites of both “Pop Up Residency” and “First Cut Lab”, two seemingly different organizations, but who were founded and are managed by the same person – Darras.

Even while researching for this article, additional ties have been uncovered. For instance, Julie Marnay serves in dual roles: as Head of Programme at the European Short Pitch and as Program Manager at First Cut Lab. According to her biography, she had joined “Semaine de la Critique in 2010 where she became Responsible for Short Films and then Coordinator of Next Step, a programme created to support short filmmakers of the Cannes’ section towards their first feature film.” In other words these two distinct entities share key personnel, who also work at festivals, creating a significant degree of influence and sway within the industry, to select few.

It’s important to clarify that “power” in this context is born from the misuse of “influence.” Specifically, power arises when decision-making is compromised by bias or favoritism rather than being based solely on merit. When decisions are made fairly and impartially, power, in the sense of a manipulable resource, is not generated, because the decision-maker’s authority isn’t exploited for personal gain or to wield undue influence. Thus, power, as a currency for potential abuse, only emerges when control and influence are exercised improperly.

A different example for such use of power, other than in the example of the 2019 Cannes short film award, is demonstrated in the case of producer Dominique Welinski. Not surprisingly, she has participated in the Torino Film Lab, both as a Producer of a selected project, and as a “decision maker” multiple times. Her director, Yona Rozenkier, is pictured below as a participant at the Pop Up Residency.

Numerous hidden ties and connections likely exist. We urge individuals knowledgeable about the European film industry’s inner workings to come forward and share any information they possess. Your insights are invaluable. Please reach out to us with any details you can provide.

Our organization is dedicated to unveiling the true decision-making processes and power dynamics within the film industry. The chart below provides a comprehensive summary of these elements. Our goal is to democratize access and provide talented, emerging young filmmakers with the opportunities they rightfully deserve to succeed in the industry.

SOURCES:

http://firstcutlab.eu/people/
https://popupfilmresidency.org/people/residents/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/NISI_MASA#Origin
https://www.torinofilmlab.it
https://www.torinofilmlab.it/people/654851/Dominique-Welinski
https://www.europeanshortpitch.org/

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