The Court of Auditors took part in a highly explosive debate on Wednesday, that of public aid to cinema. On the occasion of a control report carried out with the National Center for Cinema and Animated Images (CNC) – the last one dated from 2012 – the high financial jurisdiction, while welcoming the essential role of this institution “guarantor of French model of cultural exception”, questioned the growing increase in production aid. She calls for a general review of this support.
Even if the observation remains nuanced, this recommendation addressed to the Prime Minister, Élisabeth Borne, risks fueling the controversy over subsidies to French cinema triggered by the remarks of Justine Triet during the presentation of the Palme d’Or in Cannes for his film Anatomy of a Fall. The director then criticized the government for “a commodification of culture” and a desire “to break the French cultural exception”. “Ungrateful and unfair”, retorted the Minister of Culture Rima Abdul Malak, while the right denounced French cinema “boosted with subsidies”.
“No red card”
“There is no question of brandishing the red card,” immediately warned Pierre Moscovici, First President of the Court of Auditors during the presentation of the report. On the contrary, this control carried out with an institution which distributes each year nearly 700 million euros of public funding to the cinema sector insists on the essential role that it has played over the last ten years in allowing “the maintenance a market share of nearly 40% for French films and the development of a powerful sector of animation and audiovisual series.”
The report even salutes “the strategic vision” of the CNC which allowed it to adapt to the digital revolution and integrate platforms into the financing of creation, as well as its “reactivity” during the health crisis, with the implementation put in place effective emergency arrangements which helped the sector overcome the closure of cinemas. But behind his praise lies a certain number of criticisms. And first of all the too great “independence” of this hybrid organization which is both a central administration department – it manages cinema policy – and an autonomous public establishment.
Cinema aid in the crosshairs
The Court of Auditors, through its first president, called for “a minimum of political control” from the ministries of culture and finance. It could result in a mission letter addressed to the general director of the CNC and the establishment of an objective and performance contract. In view of the public resources allocated – 785 million euros in 2022 – it is appropriate “to be rigorous”, insisted Pierre Moscovici. The report therefore recommends the appointment of auditors and an audit committee placed under the board of directors.
But it is above all the system of aid for film production which is in the crosshairs of the Court of Auditors. She regrets« the number and complexity of existing systems which make any assessment of their effectiveness difficult. Over the years, these have increased from 88 to 120 and have been accompanied by a constant increase in the number of films supported. 172 in 2001 compared to 240 in 2019, an increase of 40%, increasing the share of public funding in these productions from 20 to 28%. However, the report also highlights the growing proportion of supported films which do not find their audience in theaters: in 2019, a third of them had fewer than 20,000 spectators.
The CNC defends diversity and renewal of creation
“The Court does not criticize the advance on receipts but questions its efficiency. We are not saying that there are too many films or that profitability should be a criterion, but there must be fewer films that do not meet their audience,” explained Pierre Moscovici. He therefore hopes that the work of general review of support undertaken by the CNC from 2019 “does not remain a dead letter” and leads to rationalization measures.
In his response, the president of the CNC, Dominique Boutonnat, regretted that the Court “analyzes almost exclusively the performance of this policy in light of the success of subsidized films in theaters, ignoring an autonomous cultural ambition which aims to encourage diversity and the renewal of creation” and specifies that aid for cinema production represents “less than 20% of the support expenses implemented by the CNC”. Furthermore, two thirds of the films released in theaters each year, including foreign films, are not supported by the CNC.