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Cannes Q&A: Eurimages Executive Director Roberto Olla

Eurimages has a solid presence this year at Cannes, where six pics supported by the Council of Europe's co-production fund are screening in the official selection. Its executive director Roberto Olla talked about his efforts to expand Eurimages beyond European borders and open it up to edgier movies, as globalization and the digital era dictate change.

Eurimages is well-represented at the fest?
My only regret is we don't have any movies in Critics' Week because I cherish first-time directors and I think it's our challenge to discover new filmmakers.

On that score, I noticed that a young director, Alice Rohrwacher, who is in competition with her second work, "Le Meraviglie," did not get Eurimages support.
Yes, it's the second time Alice Rohrwacher got turned down. She is a great filmmaker, but we had a hard time with the script. Sometimes the scripts aren't ready when they come to us. But she's in good company. It's happened to Lars von Trier, Costa Gavras and other directors.

"The Great Beauty" producer Nicola Giuliano and other Italian producers are critical of the European Union parameters that require a 10% minimum investment for a film to be eligible as a minority co-production. What's your take?
I think that should not be a problem for Italy, but it should be for smaller countries like Albania, or Serbia and Bosnia. For them to join a €10 million ($13.8 million) co-production is impossible. Therefore, having that inflexible rule excludes smaller territories from the co-production circuit. I am pleading for a reform of the European Co-production Convention to reduce the 10% limit to maybe 5% for some territories under certain circumstances.

What's new on the horizon in terms of countries joining Eurimages? I know some producers in the U.K. wanted it to join.
The U.K. for us is certainly not a priority, though if they want to come they are welcome. We were looking at Ukraine until the current disaster broke out. They have already applied, so actually we are in the middle of the negotiations process, which has been frozen. Russia and Georgia are already part of Eurimages. The other country that has applied is Armenia, which has a great cinematic tradition.

So do tensions between Russia and Ukraine, and other conflicts, play out within Eurimages?
Actually, no. I'm not going to sound off too loudly about cinema as the great peacemaker, but past conflicts such as Russia and Georgia, or Turkey and Greece, and even the current crisis do not really affect us. On the contrary, filmmakers tell stories about people, albeit against a backdrop of politics, and people transcend the stupidity of politics. The first two or three co-productions we had with Russia were Russia and Georgia telling stories about the conflict on their borders.

There are plans to expand beyond Europe. What exactly are they?
Three years ago we started a study to see if it still made sense for Eurimages to remain within European boundaries. Or if, due to globalization -- and the fact that most member states have bilateral treaties with non European countries -- it makes sense to open up, and if so with which countries. Now the legal obstacle to keep it contained has finally been eliminated. Today Eurimages can have an agreement with Canada, with Israel, or with whomever feels like joining us, but we are still studying the nitty-gritty details.

Which country do you think will be the first to join?
The Canadians look like the first in line. We talked to them, informally, and they sound very interested.

Eurimages has launched a co-production development prize for children's films. Is that indicative of a new philosophy?
It's the latest of several new initiatives aimed at stimulating pan-European cooperation from the very beginning of the creative and financing process. There's no guarantee we will support you on production if the product is not good. But we are giving you the money to write and rewrite the script and work together at development stage, so a film is conceived as a co-production from the outset, not just for purely financial purposes.

Do you have a personal ambition for another direction Eurimages could take?
Yes. I believe that we should have a pilot fund in Eurimages that supports films that are a little bit edgier. I've discussed this with the board, which gave me partial support. Eurimages supports what we call official co-productions, done within the frameworks of national treaties. But if the objective of Eurimages is to support creativity and help producers be more daring, then we should establish a separate, more flexible, fund that allows them to do it. A fund like ours should also be financing people out there making films with a smart phone. I haven't found the right formula yet (it would not take any money from Eurimages). But when I do I will consider my mission at complete.

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