Women’s Cultural Heritage Day 19 September

Midi-Minuit du Matrimoine – Women’s Cultural Heritage Marathon

A major event to celebrate the first ever International Women’s Cultural Heritage Day – La journée internationale du matrimoine – is being held
on 19 September 2015 in the Place du Palais-Royal in Paris, from Noon to Midnight, to raise the profile of creative women in the past and their work.

If you would like to contribute to showcasing a female author, composer, singer, choreographer, filmmaker, etc. who is no longer living (through a slam, reading, performance, dance, music, poetry, architecture, drama, visual arts, philosophy), send us your proposal.

Together let’s turn the spotlight on the hidden [female] face of our cultural heritage!

For proposals and all information about the event, contact:


This event is supported by

Mouvement HF for gender equality in the arts and culture, Osez le Féminisme!, Genre et Ville, la CLEF (Coordination française pour le Lobby Européen des Femmes), le LEF (Lobby Européen des Femmes), Le Deuxième Regard, le collectif Georgette Sand, Prenons La Une, les Voix Rebelles, le comité Métallos, La Barbe, le Réseau Féministe Ruptures, la Maison des Femmes de Montreuil, Clasicas Y MODERNAS (Espagne), Projecte Vaca (Espagne), Mujeres en las artes visuales (Espagne) & 50/50 le magazine de l’égalité femmes/hommes, etc.
On Facebook : https://www.facebook.com/midiminuitdumatrimoine?fref=ts


Flagging national flagship: the role of the politician

On the face of it, there is little connection between the Théâtre National de Nice and Scottish Opera but while their raison d’etre and repertoire may diverge (as the French might say), there are interesting parallels in current stooshies which are affecting both.

First, Scottish Opera which has been plunged into crisis by the swift departure of its Musical Director Emmanuel Joel-Hornak after only 58 days.  It is supposed this came about when Joel-Hornak discovered he did not enjoy the artistic freedom he assumed was due to a musical director of an opera company and found himself restricted by a powerful general manager.  I say ‘supposed’ because there has been a refusal from Joel-Hornak and Scottish Opera to make any comment beyond the announcement. Considering the level of public money that is given to the company every year, this silence has raised eyebrows.

Whatever the problem, what is not in doubt is that both the board of Scottish Opera and crucially the Scottish Government has responsibility to sort this out.  As an organisation directly funded by the Government the Cabinet Secretary has to take this one on herself.  This is not, as a Scottish Government spokesperson claimed,  ‘operational matters for Scottish Opera.’ The cancellation through illness of an appearance of a soloist is an operational matter.  The resignation of the musical director because of artistic differences, is an artistic crisis.

So where does the link come with the Théâtre National de Nice?  The French Ministry of Culture recently agreed a new set of regulations for those running national institutions (of which this theatre is one).  In essence, no one is permitted to do more than three terms of office as artistic leader of these institutions.  Interesting idea that presumably has been introduced to ensure regular refreshing of the artistic approach and has the effect of allowing younger, different leadership.  Whatever the motivation, the fact is that Daniel Benoin at Nice has been in charge for four terms (twelve years) and it is time to move on.  However he has a powerful ally in the Mayor of Nice who has been involved in a stand off (describe in the French press as ‘arm-wrestling’) with the Ministry of Culture insisting that Benoin continue and rejecting any suggestion that a new director be appointed.

This resulted in a letter being sent from Aurelie Filippetti, Minster of Culture that stated her case in no uncertain terms.  For those who read French, I re-produce in the original.  It’s a corker:

Dans l’éventualité où vous confirmeriez votre souhait de ne pas respecter les règles propres aux centres dramatiques nationaux, je vous informe que je serai amenée à étudier concrètement la possibilité de retirer le label de Centre Dramatique National au Théâtre National de Nice, et, de procéder au désengagement financier de l’État.

In essence:  follow the rules or I will strip from you the title of a national centre and I will cut your state money.

So what’s the parallel with Scottish Opera?  It is this:  the Scottish Government, and specifically the Cabinet Secretary has the power and the responsibility to intervene.  For the most part, direct state funding of the national companies, galleries and museums brings with it positive headlines and a warm glow to Ministers.  This is the other side – the crisis when political leadership is necessary.  There is no shortage of advice around (and some very good historical material: Scottish Opera has been the subject of consultancies and reports every few years over the last few decades) but whatever is decided, there has to be some evidence that the Government, working with the board, is getting to grips with the problems that currently beset the company.

And a final word on Nice.  The new artistic director, due to take over 1 January 2014, is the French-born British actor and director, Irina Brook, who, incidentally fulfils another of Filipetti’s commitments – to increase the number of women in charge of French cultural institutions.



Les acteurs français sont trop payes! (French actors are paid too much)

Thus ran the headline in the French daily newspaper Le Monde on 29 December above a photograph of Gerard Depardieu.

Yet this was not an article about the larger than life French actor, his drunken antics on a scooter, his move to a dreary village in Belgium to avoid the new 75% tax on earnings above €1m.  Nor was it about him in a fit of pique at the French government, tearing up his French passport and accepting President Putin’s invitation to settle in an inhospitable part of Russia (followed by his decision to fail to appear to answer the ‘drunk-in-charge- of-a-scooter’ charge which may result in him being detained in France on a criminal charge).  No, this piece was not about ‘pathetic’ film stars –the French PM’s description of Depardieu.   Instead the article suggested that French cinema is in crisis and it has little or nothing to do with Depardieu.

The author of the think-piece is Vincent Maraval, founder and director of Wild Bunch the successful film distribution company which counts The Artist (Oscar winner Best picture 2012) and Angel’s Share (Jury Prize, Cannes 2012) as two of its recent successes.   So a man who is a key part of the film industry in France and globally and who, when he speaks, is listened to.   Although he subsequently rejected the title given to his article by Le Monde’s sub-editors, his thesis is, nevertheless, that French movies cost too much and this can be put down to the level of fees paid to the ‘talent’.   He blames the financial structure of the film industry in France for the problem and has attacked the process of film finance which has underpinned not only a treasure of French culture but also an industry with lots of jobs.   This is of interest not only to France but also to those who look on the French film-funding model with envy.

First, his thesis.  Put simply, French films cost too much.  According to Maraval, the French movie costs on average €5.4 million.  Only US studios produce movies are more costly.  The average US independent movie costs €3 m.

The recent success of movies such as The Artist and Amour—reaching as they do a global audience- masks the fact that most French films have a limited market beyond France.  At home, French video sales are collapsing , TV  audiences for French films are in terminal decline in the face of reality TV, and cinema attendances stagnating.  There is, according to Maraval, a mismatch between reach of a movie and its cost. He cites the recent Asterix film (Astérix et Obélix : au service de Sa Majesté) which attracted a cinema audience of 4 million – perfectly respectable until he points out that it cost €60 million – equivalent to the cost of a Tim Burton US studio  movie.

Maraval’s argument is that the cost is down almost entirely to the fees paid to artists.  Again he makes comparisons: French actors appearing in American movies are paid a lot less for these movies than they are for appearing in French ones.   Well known names like Vincent Cassel, Audrey Tautou and Marion Cotillad can command fees of between € 0.5-2m for a French film, but are happy with a fee of between €50-200K for an American one which has a global reach.

So why is this happening?  Maraval puts this problem down to the way in which French movies are financed and the availability of state funding.  This ’state funding’ comes via the CNC (Centre national du cinema) which in turn receives funding directly from government with its film investment coming principally from a level on ticket prices (10.7%) and also a levy on French broadcasters—both free to air and subscription channels.   Maraval’s point is that there is no link between the popularity or earning potential of a movie and its cost.

The reaction to this piece has been vociferous and in those news-lite days between Christmas and New Year, there were several headlines criticising Maraval’s attack on individuals and accusing him of putting the government support at risk at a time when Hollande’s presidency is struggling with economic problems and sinking poll ratings.  Effectively, it is argued, Maraval has given the politicians and excuse to cut funding to film.  Leaping to the defence of the film industry, however, is the Minister of Culture,  Aurélie Filippetti and there is talk of a ministerial summit on the funding of the French film industry later this month.

What relevance is all this beyond France? Since the original article was published, the French movie has yet again broken though the ‘foreign film’ barrier at the Oscars with Amour (co-pro with Austria) nominated for five Oscars. Whatever Maravel says, from where we sit, the French film sector continues to produce movies in French about French stories, with French talent and money a few of which become global hits, or are translated into globally recognised films—the rest being shown primarily in France and shaping French culture and ideas.  Is there a problem?  That’s for the French to decide.

In terms of the UK film industry  — and film-making in Scotland—the lesson from France is that commitment from the government and the industry does deliver cultural and economic rewards.  However intervention in the market place with public money does not always guarantee quality (assuming quality means movies which enjoy critical, audience or financial success) and supporting innovation and experimentation should be just that—support for the new and not the enhancing of fees for those who already enjoy great success.





La culture Hollandaise

Two major policy strands dominated the French election.  The first was the economy and the Euro crisis. The President-elect, François Hollande faces a difficult chat next week with Chancellor Merkel about austerity and the Eurozone.  And then there was immigration, an issue led by the far right and Marine Le Pen who took 17.9% of the vote in the first round, forcing the incumbent President Nicolas Sarkozy further to the right.  Both of these issues go to the heart of not only French politics but also the politics across Europe. Politicians and commentators, right and left across the region are keenly watching the impact of Hollande’s election.

But what about the arts? Did they play any role in this election?  We tend to believe that the French take les arts et la culture very seriously and indeed they do.  Between the first and second rounds of the election, 362 intellectuals including artists (along with academics of all disciplines, commentators and journalists) penned a long group letter explaining why they were supporting Hollande.  Acknowledging they did not all agree with everything in the manifesto of the Partie Socialiste candidate, they said France would not be France if it if it refused to open itself up to others.  In rhetoric familiar to those who campaign in the UK, they complain that the last five years a ‘managerial ideology’ has been imposed on schools, universities, cultural institutions and research laboratories and that the State has moved from its social and education role and has been replaced by the ‘entrepreneurial State’.  Cuts in budgets, deregulation and the reduction of the Ministry of Culture to ‘ a shadow of its former self’ are accusations laid at the door of Sarkozy.

While it is not possible to know if this intervention had any influence on the vote, it does imply that the next President is expected to deliver something new in the arts and cultural sphere. Hollande’s ‘big idea’, welcomed by the letter-writers, is a commitment to a national plan for arts education and is being spun as his ‘grand projet’ like the Beaubourg modern art museum for Pompidou, the Musée d’Orsay for Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, the National Library for Mitterrand and the Musée du Quai Branly for Chirac.

Hollande has not pledged more money but he has promised to protect the budget in these difficult times.  In fact, there was a slight increase in funding for the arts in 2012 under Sarkozy.  He has also indicated he wants to create greater accessibility – another theme familiar to UK arts policy makers.  Hollande has stated he will repeal the Hadopi law which criminalises illegal downloading of cultural content.  This proposal has been challenged by authors, playwrights and composers and Hollande is going to have to square the circle between those whose aim is to protect their livelihood, and those who see regulation as a means of smothering creativity.

Who is to be Minister of Culture? Several names are being bandied about but the favourite appears to be Aurélie Filippetti, a published writer, who was in charge of culture and media in François Hollande’s campaign team.

But in the end François Hollande’s big plus is that he is not Nicolas Sarkozy. The perception is that Sarkozy did not care about French intellectual life, although he did try to change that perception during the campaign. However his love of bling, TV cop shows and a young Italian heiress turned pop star, meant that he was viewed as a bit embarrassing by the French – especially the French intellectual.  M. Hollande may indeed be M. Normale but at least he reads books.