Author : Saskia De Ville
Picture Credit : Brice Robert
“Belgium is doing really well! It has many projects supported by the European Creative Programme”, rejoices Barbara Gessler, Head of the Creative Europe Unit, to the European Commission Culture Commissioner. Of the 455 million allocated to the culture sub-programme between 2014-2020, 47 million were received by projects involving Belgium. Belgium is thus the second beneficiary of the culture programme, just behind France.
And out of the 174 projects submitted by a Belgian leader, 45 of them were selected, which represents one in four projects (25%), compared to one in five at a European level. Regarding the media sub-programme, the same cheerful observation: 580 Belgian projects were supported over the period 2014-2020, amounting to 39.6 million, which corresponds to 5% of the total budget.
How do we explain these good results? “Belgium is a small country, so we have to co-produce. It is something that we have in our DNA so we probably defend ourselves a little better than others”, analyzes Stéphanie Leempoels, Head of the Media Section at the Creative Europe Culture Desk – Wallonia-Brussels. An opinion shared by Isabelle Hanssen, Production Assistant at Versus Production which has been funded on several occasions by Europe Creative.
“Our structure houses three companies which are complementary: production, distribution and tax shelter. This allows us to have good visibility into the process of making a film, from its development to its release. We therefore have the right argument to convince. Each time we have submitted a dossier, we have obtained a grant. Except once, in 2018, where our record was not strong enough. The steps to take to submit an application are indeed extremely demanding.”
“Operators should not imagine that this will be an additional source of funding,” warns Max Godefroid, responsible for the culture section Creative Europe Culture Desk – Wallonia-Brussels. “Until now, up to 60% of the total budget could be co-financed. This therefore requires a strong involvement in the presentation of the dossier.”
At Versus Production, ten people work internally on this file, the equivalent of a month and a half of full-time work for one person. If Stéphanie Leempoels denies seeing applications from only large operators who can afford this human and financial investment, it can still represent a challenge for smaller structures. “I lost €10,000 and the equivalent of a half-time job for 3-4 months,” says Nicolas Wieërs, Director of the 1001 Valises Association and producer of the Balkan Trafik Festival.
“As a Belgian leader, my project was to unite the Western Balkans and Brussels around a socio-cultural project and around the Balkan Trafik Festival that I have been producing for 15 years. I thought it was going to work but I did not get a grant. I clearly lacked experience.” At the same time, the producer joined another project as a partner which was financed by Europe Creative : the Rojaze festival, led by a Serbian team. The difference between these two projects? “In practice, I have presented the same type of dossier but maybe not with the right words. The Serbian leader had a European affairs specialist on his team and the money to pay him.”
“You still have to have good writing skills and know how to phrase things correctly” admits Isabelle Hanssen. While some are fluent in the language of European administration, others feel excluded. Florent Barat of the WOW Collective, a small association of five artists, struggles to find his place. “There is not really a place for the ‘creative’ in ‘Europe Creative’. It is too bureaucratic. When we created our association in 2012 in Brussels, we wanted to set up a European project but we were soon discouraged. We are creators, not managers.”
It was finally as a partner that the WOW Collective found itself involved in a « Europe Creative » project initiated by an English structure. “Having said that, we pulled out of the project after a few weeks. The pandemic had shaken up our activity. First we had to save our own business. But these first exchanges stayed with us. The whole process was intimidating. Sometimes I would sign documents whose terms were so complicated that I wondered if I was doing the right thing.”
“What would have helped me would have been to be able to talk to people. On paper, when you read “Balkan Trafik”, people think of trafficking prostitutes, organs and old cars! Whereas what we want is a Balkan Culture traffic! However, writing that in a file does not have as much power as when you can explain it in person”, explains Nicolas Wieërs. Of course, the national desks which support operators in assembling and drafting grant application files are essential intermediaries, but is this enough?
Another difficulty encountered by the operators is the stage of progress of the project which is requested when submitting the file. You have to find and meet partners who will be able to co-finance the project and start writing the application file with them. “And then, we are asked to already have in mind extremely thorough marketing, financing and exit strategies”, adds Isabelle Hanssen. Is this not paradoxical for projects which are generally at the very beginning of their development and which sometimes involve up to 15 partners? Does this still represent another obstacle for smaller structures that might fear that the game is not worth it?
In response to COVID, the budget for the new Europe Creative 2021-2027 programme has allocated an additional €1 billion. Will these €2.4 billion allow more and smaller structures to benefit from this aid? Barbara Gessler hopes so and has stated her will to make the procedures more flexible and to make the programme more accessible by increasing for example the rate of co-financing to 80% of the total budget.
About the Author
Saskia De Ville is a Belgian musicologist, journalist, radio anchor, TV anchor and producer.