The Euro-Mediterranean Audiovisual Sector in the Spotlight

Sergi Doladé

Manager of the Association of Independent Producers of the Mediterranean (APIMED)

The Association of Independent Producers of the Mediterranean (APIMED) was born in the framework of the Permanent Conference of the Mediterranean Audiovisual Operators held in Marseilles in 1997 in response to the need to create a representative organisation that brings together independent professionals from the region. APIMED very soon established itself as an organisation capable of strengthening relations between members, facilitating co-productions, stimulating the circulation of projects based on Mediterranean cultures, exchanging experiences, and learning from our differences. Through initiatives such as the MEDIMED documentary market, participants can showcase their audiovisual projects and promote them for international distribution. Thus, numerous projects have seen the light and have found funding to reach the public. Thanks to the association fabric and the creation of networks, it is possible to challenge those who see the audiovisual sector as a mere commercial product. We must harness the power of the image as a creator of stereotypes and make it a tool for dialogue and knowledge of the Other.

We know very well to what extent cultures, customs, ways of life and seeing the world are interrelated and, at times, irremediably at odds with each other. The Mediterranean is more a union than a rupture, an area of communication and exchange, a liquid continent. Its inhabitants form a community forged by geography and many centuries of shared history. 

In a globalised world context, in which the audiovisual industry plays a predominant role, it seems crucial for the Mediterranean peoples to develop their own audiovisual production structures to avoid succumbing to a media and cultural universe that could conceal the reality of their lives. 

At the end of the 20th century, in the forums on cooperation in the Euro-Mediterranean framework, such as the Euromed Civil Forum, which took place in Barcelona on 29 and 30 November 1995, there was a notable absence of an organisation representing audiovisual producers to bring together the entire profession, with minimal resources and developing their own initiatives.

This shortcoming was made even more apparent at the meeting of the Permanent Conference of Mediterranean Audiovisual Operators (COPEAM) in Marseilles, in February 1997, in which independent producers from different Mediterranean countries did participate, but were isolated, weak and poorly represented compared to the major public institutions participating.

Given this need, civil society, and more specifically a small group of producers there led by the charismatic Tunisian filmmaker Ahmed Baha Eddine Attia, took the initiative of creating the International Association of Independent Producers of the Mediterranean (APIMED), which was constituted in the founding congress in Montpellier in November 1997. 

We can argue that, at that time, one of the few transnational professional associations operating in the Mediterranean arc was created and that its objective was something that today may seem obvious and necessary: to develop cooperation between all the members of the audiovisual sector to enhance their productions, encourage co-productions, promote films, strengthen production structures, and facilitate access to the market and consolidate it. 

The members of the association understood the need to create a permanent structure that would help represent the cultures that share the EuroMediterranean region in the audiovisual field, based on diversity and tolerance

The intention was very clear from the outset. The members of the association understood the need to create a permanent structure that would help represent the cultures that share the Euro-Mediterranean region in the audiovisual field, based on diversity and tolerance. 

The image of the Other is at the root of any Mediterranean project, any real association. Indeed, trust is created through the image, and no association is possible without this trust factor. In view of the separations and the walls established between the two sides of the Mediterranean, the need to build bridges between them clearly emerges. In this respect, due to the growing number of young people in towns in the south, the audiovisual media play a key role. 

The image of the Other may be negative due to misunderstanding history or deliberate cultural distancing. But it can be positive if future generations are educated in a framework of objectivity and respect for other societies. The power of the visual image is precisely its capacity to create stereotypes that are very difficult to change. Media messages are essential to the process of creating public opinion. In this respect, cooperation within the mass media poses essential problems, such as the influence it can exert when it comes to oversimplifying reality to the point of distorting it. All of these are particularly sensitive aspects in the case of the Mediterranean basin, which faces problems that are easily manipulated in a sensationalist manner. 

Meanwhile, audiovisual content can promote better understanding and contribute to the formation of a Mediterranean identity, which is still under construction. One of the conditions necessary for audiovisual cooperation in the area is strengthening the audiovisual system in all its complexity and richness so that it can consolidate a Mediterranean space of cooperation and tolerance.

The Barcelona Declaration of the 1995 Euro-Mediterranean Conference stresses that Euro-Mediterranean cooperation cannot be developed without reserving a prominent place for culture. The Declaration points to « the essential contribution civil society can make in the process of development of the Euro-Mediterranean partnership and as an essential factor for greater understanding and closeness between peoples. » The proposal at that time was to apply decentralised cooperation and social and human exchange in response to challenges that are socioeconomic, political and cultural. 

How can the future of the audiovisual industry in this geographical area be imagined without this fundamental pillar of independent producers? It was they, therefore, who had to organise themselves to take to this responsibility. To be useful and representative, APIMED had to bring together the largest number of producers possible in the Mediterranean area. A real and solid existence was the best tool to establish cooperation with the different interlocutors. Whether they were European institutions, trans-Mediterranean organisations or international distributors, they were all interested in this mutual cooperation.  

We Could Be Heroes poster.

Two years went by until once again at the annual COPEAM conference held in Valencia in March 1999, the producer Isona Passola, at that time president of the Catalan production companies, offered her support, following a proposal from the Government of Catalonia for Barcelona to host the permanent headquarters of the association. 

Thanks to the invitation of the European Institute of the Mediterranean, APIMED had a permanent infrastructure with the necessary resources to ensure its functioning and continued existence that would guarantee that its objectives were achieved. After twenty years, these remain unchanged: the representation of independent producers wherever their presence is useful; the promotion of exchanges between producers; cooperation with all our interlocutors; the promotion of training initiatives and co-productions in the region; the dissemination of information about the sector; and the maintenance of a network of active professionals to contribute to the development of the Mediterranean audiovisual industry. 

Two years went by until once again at the annual COPEAM conference held in Valencia in March 1999, the producer Isona Passola, at that time president of the Catalan production companies, offered her support, following a proposal from the Government of Catalonia for Barcelona to host the permanent headquarters of the association.APIMED is an international, cultural and not-for-profit private association managed with the contributions of its members that promotes shared reflection and the representation of independent producers in the Mediterranean region to public and private bodies. Similarly, it promotes exchange between producers and encourages co-production and cooperation among all the members.

APIMED has the resources to allow it to bring its activities to its younger members and those from countries with limited production. The association aims to strengthen production skills throughout the Mediterranean. Therefore, some time ago training courses were organised, which have yielded very good results in the different Euromed Audiovisual programmes: MEDEA and Access to Markets in the Digital Era. These activities aim to strengthen the professional relationships among the members, which increases the possibilities of co-productions and exchanges between them. It also aims to stimulate the circulation of projects; develop synergies around the Mediterranean basin; produce films based on our own cultures; pool available resources, knowledge and efforts; exchange experiences; contrast ideas; find out about the productions of colleagues, and learn from our differences. 

It is an association managed by a board of directors democratically elected by its members. The board makes decisions on all types of activities that are considered of interest to the sector. Professionals and production companies in the audiovisual sector, as well as associations of film and audiovisual producers from any country in the Mediterranean region, can be APIMED members. Currently, the association represents more than 400 film and television companies from Algeria, Egypt, France, Greece, Lebanon, Israel, Italy, Malta, Morocco, Palestine, Spain, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey. 

Professionals and production companies in the audiovisual sector, as well as associations of film and audiovisual producers from any country in the Mediterranean region, can be APIMED members

We know that cultures, customs, ways of living and seeing the world are interpreted in a biased way and, sometimes, completely at loggerheads. For this reason, it is of the utmost importance that Mediterranean peoples do not feel abandoned in a media and cultural universe that hides their reality. In this respect, one of APIMED’s most important challenges was the creation, in 2000, of an international market of Euro-Mediterranean productions dedicated to the documentary genre: MEDIMED Doc Market. A market open to difference, the meeting between cultures, communication between creators and coexistence.

Today, MEDIMED is the annual event of the Euro-Mediterranean documentary, aimed at the promotion, marketing and distribution of documentaries produced in the Euro-Mediterranean region. The main objective of this market is to contribute to the development of and investment in documentary projects that encourage business cooperation within the audiovisual sector of the region, promoted by production companies based in the European Union and southern Mediterranean countries. In this respect, the market is a unique opportunity for the commercial promotion of documentary productions for television and cinemas at an international scale, since its main task is to disseminate the range of titles selected for the market catalogue and help sell them to the invited television stations and distributors. 

Moreover, MEDIMED promotes documentary projects that seek funding in the international market. Our greatest achievement is having contributed to the production of 85% of the documentary projects that have been presented at the Pitching Forum in the last nineteen years, which has facilitated cooperation between television channels and independent producers from more than 50 countries. 

The so-called « specific markets », whatever their subject, are undoubtedly a necessary complement to the media markets, since they are a successful marketing strategy for the promotion of audiovisual productions, especially independent. 

Moreover, MEDIMED has created a network of professionals from both shores of the Mediterranean, fundamental to increase the professionalism and economic development of the audiovisual industry in the region, and, thereby, has strengthened the integrating role of Spain and its leadership in this field. Not for nothing does Barcelona host the headquarters of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfM), an organisation created by the European Union to safeguard the historical, economic and cultural ties of the Euro-Mediterranean region. 

Currently, MEDIMED is a tangible contribution to the Euro-Mediterranean cooperation partnership initiated by the Barcelona Process in 1995, which over the years has allowed a large number of professionals from both shores of the Mediterranean to carry out audiovisual projects that would otherwise not have seen the light. For example, the Danish-Tunisian-Moroccan co-production We Could Be Heroes, by Moroccan director Hind Bensari, awarded at the prestigious Toronto International Documentary Festival Hot Docs 2018. This project was selected to be presented at the Pitching Forum in 2016, where the Danish production company Bullitt Film found the necessary funding to complete the film and, thus, the Moroccan television channel 2M joined the co-production with the Tunisian production company Cinetéléfilms 

Other success stories include the production of Barcelona’s Boogaloo Films Hayati (My Life), by Sofi Escudé and Liliana Torres, which was selected as a project in 2016 and, thanks to its presentation in the market, found funding to produce the film, which deals with how a family of Syrian refugees adapts to life in Spain, together with France Télévision and Al Jazeera Documentary. Similarly, the documentary of Turkish origin Mr. Gay Syria, by Ayse Toprak, was selected for its potential interest to the international market with hardly any funding. At MEDIMED 2016 it found co-producers in Germany, France, Norway and Malta, as well as an international distributor. 

MEDIMED offers a series of advantages as a specific market for documentaries, notably including the fact that it is an essential annual event for professionals in the sector. This helps the professional relationship between the participants, who find in Sitges (Barcelona) a space that drives real business, consolidates their network of contacts, strengthens the documentary industry and, finally, enables producers to find funding for projects thanks to the many international buyers and TV executives who participate year after year. 

In recent years, the market has positioned itself in a very prominent place within the annual calendar of professional markets dedicated to documentary internationally, and has become a key event for the internationalisation of Mediterranean productions through sales and distribution agents in the region. 

Those that want to reduce cultural production to simple trade act with a persistence and determination that make it difficult to apply Socrates’ observation that « No one does wrong willingly. » Indeed, the vertical concentration underway and the gigantism of the groups that control the media have alerted the European authorities to try to stop the audiovisual industry from being confused with and assimilated into any other commercial activity. 

It is not because of a narrow-minded nationalism or a conservative and cold vision that we want to protect and consolidate the right to free expression, diversity and independent creation

The United States’ insistence on integrating culture ‒ and, primarily, audiovisual creation ‒ into the globalisation of international trade should lead us to distrust the supposed innocence of this initiative. If a power such as France distrusts it and defends the right ‒ through a term as established today as « cultural exception » ‒ to subsidise and finance artistic creation, the danger is even greater for the small countries of the South. It is necessary, therefore, to resist and create a broad front to defend our identities. 

It is not because of a narrow-minded nationalism or a conservative and cold vision that we want to protect and consolidate the right to free expression, diversity and independent creation. Whenever a hegemonic power has sought to standardise the thinking, taste or aesthetics of a civilisation, we have witnessed the degradation not only of this same dominant civilisation but also the one it has sought to dominate. For the countries and peoples of the South, offering the American dream through hamburgers, Coca-Cola and TV series implies delocalising the dream and creating fractures in fragile societies that can only lead to adventures of extreme violence. 

The daily lives of human beings are achieved thanks to a series of efforts: getting up, travelling, studying, working… but this daily life is also made up of dreams. If we delocalise the dream, what social fabric will we build for future generations other than the fabric torn by the temptation to march towards the « promised land » by any means, such as the small boats that cross the Mediterranean, where the end of the road is the nightmare of emigration and the temptation to withdraw into yourself? Today this phenomenon of cultural rejection generates fundamentalisms and other forms of violence. 

At APIMED we are aware of these challenges and we distrust those who seek confusion between telecommunications and the media, as well as those who argue that the products of the spirit are commodities just like tea, coffee, rice or cement… We favour « cinema-diversity » and the right to difference, without closing the borders to audiovisual products from other parts of the world. We also support the viewer having the possibility to choose but having access to a real choice of all types of content, not the choice dictated by the large distribution platforms or by the audience. 

The daily lives of human beings are achieved thanks to a series of efforts: getting up, travelling, studying, working… but this daily life is also made up of dreams

That is the great challenge we all face, not only professionals but viewers. Only by building critical and interconnected societies, open to permanent dialogue and the useful contrast of ideas that come from our diversity, can we face the future. In fact, one of the biggest industries that humanity has invented, after weapons, is cinema. Co-producing films is the most effective way of making dialogue between cultures possible and only if we are able to share our different conceptions of the world will we be able to resolve our conflicts. 

Long live Mediterranean cinema! Long live APIMED!