The cinemas of the former Eastern bloc countries emerged from behind the iron curtain into a globalising film industry. This post looks at the example of feature film production in Poland that originates outside the country, and explores the range of global connections through incoming autonomous films and co-productions. The results show that while a significant number of these films have been produced in Poland, the range of the countries involved in these productions is limited and reflects the traditional dominance of the global film industry by Hollywood and the major European film industries.
The globalisation of the film industry
While the film industry has always been international, Lorenzen (2007, 2008) identifies the shift to a global film industry as the increasing interconnectedness among firms and the places in which they operate leading to greater integration in four areas: (1) filmmaking has moved beyond its traditional European/North American base to become a globally ubiquitous activity; (2) global consumption is replacing more localised forms of film experience for audiences; (3) production has become globalised as producers look for new creative partnerships and as Hollywood productions have been ‘offshored’ and ‘outsourced’ (Vang and Chaminade 2007) to production centres that offer competitive advantages in the form of reduced costs and/or tax incentives; and, (4) the global forms of organisation have emerged with in the shape of ‘media empires’ that are globally owned and globally active (e.g. Sony, Viacom, News Corporation).
One of the main arguments put forward for the globalisation of the film industry is the increase in co-productions, in which the development of a motion picture is funded by companies based in more than one nation, and where production may take place in more than one nation bring together a multinational cast and crew. Such production arrangements mean that no national identity can be assigned to a film as a cultural product, and, that as a consequence of this, film is a global medium in which limiting notions of nationhood are no longer relevant. The mobility of films which cross international borders (see Higson 2000)
One of the problems with discussing globalisation and the cinema is that analysts tend to focus primarily (if not exclusively) on questions of production. Viewed in the simple terms described above, the globalisation of the film industry is a relatively straightforward process that has seen the spread of film production around the world. However, since the 1940s the film industry has been distribution led, and it is distributors who act as the gatekeepers to film markets. Balio (1996: 27) quotes Harold L. Vogel:
Ownership of entertainment distribution capability is like ownership if a toll road or bridge. No matter how good or bad the software product (i.e., movie, record, book, magazine, TV show, or whatever) is, it must pass over or cross through a distribution pipeline in order to reach the consumer. And like any toll or road bridge that cannot be circumvented, the distributor is a local monopolist who can extract a relatively high fee for use of his facility.
This analogy can be extended from the local to the global, and following the merger of media companies to form vertically and horizontally integrated media empires that operate in markets across the world has led to the emergence of global monopolists who cannot be circumvented. The processes of globalisation that have emerged in the film industry have not fundamentally altered the governance of the film industry, which, Coe and Johns (2004) point out, remains concentrated in a limited number of global media empires that are based in a small, select group of cities comprising Los Angeles, New York, London, Paris, and Tokyo. Even among this select group we can identify an imbalance between the dominance of the American cities and the second tier status of the others in the global film industry.
Poland and the global film industry
As a film industry that has had to develop in the context of globalisation following the demise of the centralised Soviet model, Poland is an instructive example of how the film industry has become globalised without fundamentally changing the nature of the film industry.
Polish film policy since 2005
Film policy in Poland was Cinematography Act of 2005, which created the Polish Film Institute and regulated the funding of film production. A principal objective of this act was to enable Poland to be more successful in attracting films to Poland as well as boosting domestic production, which had been slowly declining to 2004. Two key definitions were introduced: autonomous production – in which a production comes into Poland from outside and does not have a Polish counterpart; and, co-productions with a Polish partner. In both cases, producers are required to register as companies in Poland, and all production activity within Poland is subject to Polish law. While co-productions are typically viewed as undermining the national in a global film industry, it is also important to remember that they are promoted as part of national film policy by creating connections in order to bring investment into a country. Since 2007, Poland has also introduced regional production funds to develop production facilities at a more local level. Additionally, Poland is a member of the pan-European production schemes Eurimages and Media 2007, which also promote cross-border co-productions in the European Union. Like many countries, Poland has sought to place itself within the global film industry as a destination for productions. The schemes directed by the Polish Film Institute are intended to increase the level of production in the country by making funding available either through direct subsidies or indirect tax breaks. Although it is a requirement of a co-production agreement that the non-Polish partner cannot claim exclusive distribution rights, there has not been any attempt to address the nature of motion picture distribution. The Polish Film Institute reports an increase in production from 2006 and a part of this has been an increase in the number of co-productions, but this may be seen as largely a process of modernisation whereby policies that have been successful elsewhere have been adopted (Poland’s film policy is now very similar to that of the UK and many other European countries) and have had the impact of raising production levels relative to the recent past without fundamentally transforming Poland’s position in the global film industry.
Connecting Poland to the global film industry
Data was collected from the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com) by searching for productions shot in Poland and that were either incoming productions with no local production partner (autonomous productions) or productions which did have such a partner (co-productions). Only feature-length fiction films are included in the sample. Where a film has connections to more than one country (e.g. there is more than one co-producing partner), then it counts once for each country, and so the total number of connections exceeds to total number of productions. A limitation of this data is that it is only able numerate the number of connections between industries, and is not able to give an estimate of the value of these connections by looking at the amount of production spend in Poland of each film.
Data was collected for a total of 52 films produced in Poland from 2002 to 2007 inclusive, of which 30 are co-productions or and 22 are autonomous films. The results are presented in Table 1 and Figure 1.
TABLE 1 Co-productions and autonomous productions to shoot in Poland, 2002-2007
FIGURE 1 Poland in the global film industry, 2002-2007
KEY: AT – Austria; AU – Australia; CA – Canada; CH – Switzerland; CZ – Czech Republic; DE – Germany; ES – Spain; FR – France; IL – Israel; IN – India; IT – Italy; LU – Luxembourg; NL – Netherlands; PL – Poland; RU – Russia; SK – Slovakia; SW – Sweden; UK – United Kingdom; US – United States
The films in the sample have between them a total 72 connections, with co-productions accounting for approximately 60% of these. Although these films connect the Polish film industry to those of nineteen other countries, the range of countries is limited. Fourteen are European countries, and only and Russia and Switzerland are not members of the European Union. These fourteen countries account for 52 connections in total, and of these 34 are from just three countries: France, the United Kingdom, and – most importantly – Germany. Beyond Europe three countries have only a single connection to Poland, while Canada has four and the United States has thirteen of the twenty non-European connections. Only the US and Germany have connections that reach into double figures, and only France and the UK have connections that also number more than five. With more than a quarter of the total, it is clear that Germany is Poland’s most significant co-producing partner and is also an important source of incoming productions. The global reach of film production is, then, somewhat limited to Poland’s immediate neighbours and North America. Although the Polish Film Institute has reported an upsurge in feature film production since 2005, Poland has not become a production hub in the global film industry. It has been a source of locations for films and for co-productions in the immediate area. Beyond the major film producing countries with which it is connected (Germany, the US, France, the UK), the connections tend to one-off events with no sustained relationship.
The results of this brief survey are nothing surprising. Poland finds itself like many countries competing to attract mobile productions in a global film industry and has adopted measures similar to those elsewhere (subsidies, tax breaks, regional production funds). Its relationship to other film industries is determined primarily by the continued domination of the US and (albeit on a smaller scale) if Western Europe. As production costs rise in Poland, or as new territories that are able to offer even cheaper production facilities whilst maintaining production standards, Poland’s number of connections will decrease as productions move elsewhere.
Overall, the global film industry is a lot less globalised than we are led to believe, and while filmmaking may now be a ‘globally ubiquitous activity’ the connections between productions in different parts of the world are essentially limited.
Balio, T. (1996) Adjusting to the new global economy: Hollywood in the 1990s, in A. Moran (ed.) Film Policy: International, National, and Regional Perspectives. London: Routledge: 23-38.
Coe, N.M., and Johns, J. (2004) Beyond production clusters: towards a critical political economy of networks in the film and television industries, in D. Power and A.J. Scott (eds) The Cultural Industries and the Production of Culture. London: Routledge: 188-204.
Higson, A. (2000) The limiting imagination of national cinema, in M. Hjort and S. MacKenzie (eds.) Cinema and Nation. London: Routledge: 63-74.
Lorenzen, M. (2007) Internationalization vs. globalisation of the film industry, Industry and Innovation 14 (4): 349-357.
Lorenzen, M. (2008) Creativity at Work: On the Globalisation of the Film Industry, Creative Encounters Working Papers 8.
Vang, J., and Chaminade, C. (2007) Global-local linkages, spillovers, and cultural clusters: theoretical and empirical insights from an exploratory study of Toronto’s film cluster, Industry and Innovation 14 (4): 401-420.