Is the Integrity of the European Film Industry Compromised?

Categorized as Alleged Conflict of Interest, Community Posts Tagged , , , , , ,
Amir Manor

Before we delve into the details of this article, we want to remind our readers of a simple yet crucial fact: every year film festivals receive thousands of submissions. The most prestigious ones can receive as many as 15,000 submissions annually. As you go through the information below, please keep these staggering numbers in mind. We also remind our readers that the European film industry is financed by public funding worth hundreds of millions of Euros per year.

Consider this: how is it that, amid thousands of submissions from filmmakers, writers, directors, and producers, it’s always the same few who seem to be chosen repeatedly for various festivals or labs, and who secure funding opportunities? Meanwhile, the vast majority struggle to make a mark in the industry, with many not even having their films viewed. To quote one commenter, “If you think any film festival watches all the submissions, I have a bridge to sell you.”

IMPORTANT NOTE: Please note that this article is not meant to be an ad hominem attack on any specific person. The individuals mentioned below and their positions in various organizations are used as examples for the way that the film industry operates. The positions, roles and professional relationship between individuals are public information. Sources are provided throughout the website. If you would like to report any inaccuracy please do not hesitate to contact us. Our aim is to improve and democratize the film industry by analyzing the way its institutions are set-up. In order to do so, we must list those organizations and the people who work for them or with them, and their relationship with each other. Also, to be clear, there are certainly much bigger fish in the swamp than the individuals listed below but we publish information which is available to us and which was brough to our attention. If you can disclose further information about other individuals or organizations, please contact us.

Is the Integrity of the European Film Industry Compromised?

Our argument is that the integrity of the European Film industry is highly compromised in that a loose affiliation of organizations which are run by the same or connected people use their power and influence in order to control the distribution of resources among themselves and those who are close to them, akin to a syndicate. To be clear, Film Industry Watch does not accuse the people mentioned below of belonging to a syndicate, but simply that the way the industry is set-up, is akin to one. Critics claim that the consequences of this structure, while not illegal, are highly immoral, and work to the detriment of the film industry as a whole, as well as its artistic output. 

The diagrams below serve as a visual illustration of the various organizations and individuals discussed in our articles and the intricate web connecting them. These charts reveal a highly insular system where influential figures in the industry engage in a sort of musical chairs or a revolving door: they occupy multiple roles, in different and multiple organizations, enabling them to further their own agendas and interests. This system not only creates barriers to entry for newcomers but also signals to others within the network their willingness to utilize their influence and reciprocate favors, benefiting those within this closed circle.

The charts below list individuals and organizations as examples of how the system operates. They show the relationships between decision-makers, producers, and the organizations that made the selection such as festivals, labs and film funds. These charts reveal that the producer of a chosen project is working with, or for, the selecting organization, the examples being Dominique Welinski (multiple organizations) , Melissa Malinbaum (Cannes short film section), and Ben Vandendaele (for NISI MASA).

The reason that these relationships – producer / decision maker – are highlighted in the examples below is that they are publicly documented. Other types of connections, like close friendships, commercial interests, or even bribes, are much harder to uncover due to their secretive nature. However, the bottom line remains the same – the selection, funding, and awarding of a project is rarely based on artistic merit, with the real reason being family connection, financial interests, friendships etc.

In festival selections and film funds public financing, in 90% of the cases, merit isn’t the main criterion. We can state these numbers with some confidence because, as we know, in all major festivals, submissions are not viewed. Only about 5-10% of feature film submissions and 1-2% of short film submissions are actually considered for selection from the total number of entries, based on direct recommendations from members of the network to the selection committee members. In national film funds, the numbers are similar, with about 5-10% of submitted projects actually being considered, with the financed projects making about 1%, with very little consideration to their actual merit. In some funds all the projects will be read and scored but in most cases those scores will not be taken into consideration. We will post proof of these claims in the near future.

This is not to say that it is absolutely impossible to break into the industry. However, you absolutely must “know someone” or “be someone” to enter into the pool of films or projects that will be considered. Without some connection to those people within the network, your project does not stand any chance because it will simply not be read or viewed. [Read this article about the Munich Film Festival for an example, as well as the Sundance may not be watching all submissions post

The following charts detail individuals and the organizations they work for, their positions, and how their positions has effected selection of projects they’ve been involved with, both within the organization and within the film ecosystem as a whole.

The first case is of producer Dominique Welinski who holds a multitude of roles in the industry. She works for the Cannes Film Festival, curates the Factory program at Cannes’ Director’s Fortnight, selects projects for Cannes’ L’atelier, works at the Jerusalem Film Lab, is a Jury in the Jerusalem Film Festivals, and served as a decision maker for the Torino Film Lab. She is also the Producer of Israeli Director Yona Rozenkier. For some whatever strange statistical anomality, Rozenkier has participated in ALL of the above events or programs and even had TWO films screened in Cannes in the same year (2019). Note that Welinski is the curator of the Factory, so she had invited her own director to the program PLUS had arranged for his short film to be in the Official Competition, while the other 7000 people who had submitted films don’t even get their films watched.

We ask the reader to be reminded of the first paragraph of this article where we discuss the fact that each year thousands of films are submitted to these festivals or programs (about 7000-10,000 short films to Cannes, where Rozenkier’s short was selected). Does anyone believe that this is a coincidence and that the selection of Rozenkier’s projects in these events was by chance, rather due to the fact that his Producer is working for or with these organizations?

Further more, Rozenkier has recently been awarded funding for his next feature film by the Israeli Film Fund which is currently headed by Noa Regev. Noa’s previous job was the Artistic Director of the Jerusalem Film Festival, which Dominique Welinski works with and for, and which had selected for screening both of Rozenkier’s features.

Here it is important to explain that Dominique Welinski’s strength as a producer is not only in the roles and positions that she holds in these events, for the sole purpose of influencing ** selections of projects which she produces herself (such as Rozenkier’s films) but rather that these selections send a clear “signal” across the ecosystem that selection in these festivals and programs is highly dependent on personal networks and contacts. NO OTHER FOUL PLAY IS IMPLIED.

** Influencing in this regard simply means by the virtue of being a position holder in an important organization. No foul play needed, nor implied by us, in order to achieve this “influence.” It is achieved simply by holding an important role within the industry.

It could be imagined that Noa Regev, as the head of the Israeli Film Fund, would seek favors** with Welinski, hoping that Welinski would help films financed by the fund throughout the ecosystem.

The fact that Yona’s and Welinski’s two shorts were selected in Cannes in the same year, where Welinski works as an adviser, send a very clear signal across the network – success and selection in festivals and various programs are highly dependent on who you know, and the favors** you pay them. On the flip side, those in the industry also know that they should “watch out” to stay on good terms with Welinski’s, and other gatekeepers, or they might be ‘blacklisted’ and their careers tarnished.

** in the form of social currency – NO FAUL PLAY IS IMPLIED. It is not implied that actual currency is being exchanged.

The following chart further details the connections between Welinski and Regev across three distinct organizations. Firstly, at the Jerusalem Film Lab, Welinski serves as an adviser, and it was here that Rozenkier’s project was chosen and received an award.

Secondly, the Jerusalem Film Festival, under Noa Regev’s leadership as Artistic Director, selected both of Rozenkier’s feature films. This festival also hosts the pitching event of the Jerusalem Film Lab mentioned above.

Lastly, the Israeli Film Fund, now led by the same Noa Regev, recently granted Yona 2,000,000 Shekels (more than 500,000 Euro) for his next feature film production, funding that was given to only three films out of more than one hundred projects.

The intricate and overlapping relationships among these individuals and organizations are strikingly apparent. At this point it should be becoming increasingly evident why we argue that the structure of the European Film Industry more closely resembles that of a syndicate than a that of thriving healthy industry.

The following chart focuses on the Cannes Film Festival, highlighting the roles of selection committee members Wim Vanacker and Melissa Malinbaum. The following might be confusing, which is why a full chart has been provided below:

In 2017, ‘Gabriel’ by Oren Gerner, a short film produced by Melissa Malinbaum, was chosen to the festival. This selection came a year after the film’s participation in NISI MASA in 2016, during which time Wim Vanacker, ALSO a Cannes selection committee member, was its Artistic Director (if you’re confused already, use the chart below.)

The subsequent year, as Artistic Director Vanacker selected ‘The Silence of the Dying Fish’ by Vasilis Kekatos. In the following year, Kekatos’s ‘The Distance Between Us and the Sky’ entered the Cannes’ Shorts Official Competition. This film later won the Palme d’Or. It was later revealed that Eleni Kossyfidou, the film’s producer, had a longstanding professional relationship with Panos H. Koutras, a jury member on the awarding committee. Additionally as we’ve previously reported Kekatos had invited both Vanacker and Kossyfidou to be jury members at his own SEA NEMA Film Festival in 2017.

Here, we once again observe a glaring conflict of interest that extends over years and across various organizations.

Any credible professional in the film industry would recognize that the selection of a film produced by a committee member for festival participation constitutes an undeniable conflict of interest that should have never taken place. We again remind our reader that while Cannes selects only 8-10 short films per year, they receive between 7000 to 10,000 submissions. NISI MASA, too, received dozens of submissions each year. To assume that the above detailed narrative is some kind of a coincidence is preposterous. (If you believe that it is a coincidence, please contact us, we have a brand new bridge to sell you)

We reiterate that all the information mentioned above is publicly available and accessible online. We argue that the majority of films and projects chosen for these events benefit from a high degree of favoritism that bears little relation to their artistic merit. Although it is straightforward to establish connections in the aforementioned cases, many such relationships remain concealed from public view and may be impossible to uncover without insider knowledge. We also repeat that this article is not meant to be an ad hominem attack on any specific person.

The next chart delves deeper into NISI MASA. Here we explore the case of producer Ben Vandendaele, a close friend of Wim Vanacker, who at the time served as Nisi Masa’s Artistic Director. This chart illustrates Vandendaele’s recurring success in getting his projects selected at NISI MASA events year after year, showcasing a pattern that raises questions about the nature of these selections.

In 2016, two of the films selected, ‘Deer Boy’ and ‘The Hoarder,’ were produced by Vandendaele. This pattern continued into 2017, with the selection of another two Vandendaele productions, ‘Hunt’ and ‘The Nipple Whisperer.’

The trend persisted in 2018 and 2019. In 2018, ‘Vengeance Of The Vixens,’ a film produced by Vandendaele’s company, was chosen, during a period when he was also consulting for the organization. In the following year, the film ‘Creatures,’ again a production under Vandendaele, was selected, while he maintained his consultancy role.

Importantly – some of these films are listed as having Vandendaele as their producers, others have “Bekke Films” listed as the production company, without Vandendaele’s names attached to them. However, “Bekke Films” is Vandendaele’s company, one and the same. This has been done, allegedly, to hide these facts, and perhaps to circumvent the NISI MASA rules that allow for only one project from the same producer to be selected each year. If such actions remind you that of a syndicate, almost like a mafia, you are not alone in these thoughts.

Vandendaele’s multifaceted involvement in the 2018 NISI MASA event is particularly noteworthy. Not only was he a producer of a selected film, but he also played a dual role as a consultant to the organization. Furthermore, he was involved in the decision-making process that led to the awarding of a Distribution Award to another project. Coincidentally, a film he produced was also an award recipient during the same event.

The connections extended to jury members as well. In 2017, Daria Vlasova, a member of the jury, was associated with a film represented by Bekke Films, Vandendaele’s company. Another jury member, Jérôme Nunes, had known ties to Vandendaele. Additionally, two films connected to jury member Marija Fridinovaitė were selected in the same year.

A particularly concerning instance of potential conflict of interest involved jury member Ola Jankowska. Vandendaele’s distribution company handled her film ‘Deer Boy,’ while she was serving as a jury member at the event.

The circumstances surrounding the award win for ‘Vengeance of the Vixens’ in 2018 also raise questions. The film, produced by Bekke Films (owned by Vandendaele), won an award at a time when Vandendaele was serving as a consultant for the event. This succession of events, involving repeated selections, multiple roles, and connections to jury members, suggests a pattern that goes beyond mere coincidence, just as all the other examples which we mentioned above.

It’s commonplace for individuals to work with various companies or organizations throughout their careers, and it’s not unusual for their paths to intersect with others. However, when you put all of these instances together as in the chart below, a closer analysis of these interactions uncovers a troubling pattern, a deeply ingrained network of relationships among certain individuals and organizations which is overly incestuous. This network is problematic because it fosters a culture of mutual back-scratching, where favors and advantages are exchanged freely, blurring the lines between personal, professional interests and artistic merit. What’s more alarming is the blatant nature of these entanglements; there’s little to no effort to conceal these conflicts of interest, indicating that such practices have become normalized and accepted within their circles. This situation raises significant concerns about integrity and fairness, suggesting a corrupt system where personal connections trump professional and ethical standards. These corrupt relationships are between festival organizers, film fund decision makers, sales agents, producers, directors, and finally the governmental agencies which fund them which accept the way in which the system is set-up, funding it with hundreds of millions of Euros each year, public tax payers money that ends up in the pockets of few, who guards their positions and access to resources, stifling access to newcomers and reducing the quality of the industry’s artistic output.

While contacts between different individuals and organizations within an industry is natural, we believe that in the examples detailed in this report the lines have been crossed. The current state of the European Film Industry is highly compromised due to the work of certain rotten apples that poison the system as a whole, without many of the industry members, and certainly not the public, realizing it.

We ask our readers to continue to share with us information about the industry so it can be analyzed, published and distributed to the public and the bodies that fund these organizations.

Further Reading:

SOURCES:

https://www.screendaily.com/news/nadav-lapid-project-yes-among-five-israel-film-fund-winners-exclusive/5182483.article

https://www.screendaily.com/news/jerusalem-film-festival-crowns-pitch-point-winners/5131282.article

https://jff.org.il/en/article/33752

https://www.festival-cannes.com/en/f/parparim/

https://www.torinofilmlab.it/people/705237/Yona-Rozenkier

https://www.festival-cannes.com/en/2017/l-atelier-2017/

https://popupfilmresidency.org/2020/01/13/pop-up-film-residency-in-athens/

https://www.cannescourtmetrage.com/en/actualites/cannes-2020-the-short-films-competition 

https://pro.imdb.com/title/tt8296610/ 

https://www.festival-cannes.com/en/f/gabriel/

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt10214916/

https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8791506/

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3187519/

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm3267450/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Distance_Between_Us_and_the_Sky

https://www.imdb.com/name/nm1179406/ – Listed as a Producer in Yona’s films.

https://www.festival-cannes.com/en/2017/l-atelier-2017/

https://cineuropa.org/en/newsdetail/372414/

https://variety.com/2020/film/global/torinofilmlab-scriptlab-1203490498/

https://www.torinofilmlab.it/people/654851/Dominique-Welinski

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