Charlie Rivkin Remarks for Boxoffice Magazine Event, Paris
Cher Monsieur Boutonnat et cher Monsieur Marcel qui nous recevez aujourd’hui,
Mes chers collègues et amis, représentant le travail de nos membres ici en France,
Chère Madame Bergé, et chers membres du Parlement,
Mon cher ami Dominique,
Mesdames et Messieurs,
J’éprouve toujours un plaisir particulier en revenant en France, et spécialement à Paris, une ville que j’ai eu le bonheur de visiter de nombreuses fois, et où j’ai eu l’honneur de servir mon pays en tant qu’ambassadeur des Etats-Unis en France pendant quatre ans et demi. Je garde beaucoup de souvenirs précieux liés à Paris, ce qui en fait un endroit où je me sens chez moi, tout en étant loin de chez moi.
Et je tiens particulièrement à remercier Boxoffice et le CNC de m’inviter aujourd’hui à prendre la parole ici, à Paris, devant vous.
It is great to be back in France, a country that has enjoyed a leading role in so many chapters of my life. As a child, I lived in Luxembourg, where my father served as US Ambassador. As a high school student, I came to France to study the language and culture, and travelled across the French heartland – La France Profonde. Years later, I was proud to serve as US Ambassador in France, where I made Paris my home for more than four years.
So, I am honored and delighted for so many reasons, to speak to you today.
A few minutes ago, I mentioned Aurore Bergé, a French Member of Parliament who, I have recently learned, happens to be the daughter of Alain Dorval.
Now, Alain of course is known and loved across France as a dubbing artist. And he is best known as the voice of Sylvester Stallone. To French ears, he was Rocky, the boxer who loves to train by running all the way to the top of the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
There’s a scene in the movie Rocky V, when Rocky says: “You know, I’ve been running up and down these steps for 20 years, and I never knew there was valuable pictures in this building.”
Our two countries have been running together for more than 200 years … as friends, allies, and partners … in peace and war, in hard times and in prosperity. And as one very connected industry, we have made a lot of valuable pictures, together and apart.
Our member studios are proud to have been partners in Europe’s continuing economic growth and cultural traditions over these many years.
And we salute the resiliency of the European creative sector, including France, as it has weathered – and continues to weather – one of the toughest challenges we have faced in a generation.
Cinemas sitting dark. Productions closed down. Jobs lost. People lost their lives. The pandemic left its indelible mark. But it never stopped our shared purpose, our determination to get back to work as soon and as safely as possible. And it’s a testament to the resiliency and initiative of European filmmakers and distributors, that Europe suffered far less drop off than most in their earnings, admissions, and productions.
It was critical that governments across Europe responded to the crisis. And they did, taking direct and positive measures to mitigate the losses, including emergency funding, advancing support payments, as well as relaxing requirements and deadlines.
Here in France, the French Cultural Recovery Plan was launched to the tune of EUR 165 million to compensate for losses due to lower attendance and lockdowns. And there were similarly positive initiatives in Germany, Spain, Italy, and the UK.
We were honored to be part of the coalition of international producers, European cinema owners, and the entire European production sector, that appealed to Europe’s political leadership.
We showed that when we stand together, and speak with one voice, we can make a positive difference for our industry. And ultimately, there was recognition that this industry is not only a powerful generator of jobs – including for young people – but also an important source of joy, entertainment, and cultural value.
Here in France, especially, cinema will always be le septième art.
In that spirit, let me take a moment to acknowledge the recent passing of someone special to France and to me personally. Jean Paul Belmondo. His performance in Jean Luc Godard’s A Bout de Souffle – or Breathless – is, for me, one of the most iconic performances on the silver screen. And few were more dedicated to French cinema.
I’m happy that he lived long enough to know that, even though the pandemic is far from over, that we are moving, slowly but surely, from dark and challenging times and back into the light.
Productions are back in business and have been for some time. Cinemas too. In fact, just before Covid struck, European cinemas had recorded their best results for 15 years, with admissions reaching the 1 billion mark for the first time since 2004. And here in France, from Paris to Perpignan, Bayonne to Boulogne Sur Mer, you can hear customers in the lobby again, talking about the movie they just saw.
And once again, you can smell the popcorn, whether you like it salty or sweet.
As the Motion Picture Association prepares to celebrate its 100th anniversary next year, I’d like to offer my congratulations to Boxoffice which has just celebrated its centennial.
I mention these anniversaries because this is an opportune moment to remember the core elements that have brought us this far and which will continue – I believe – as we face an uncertain future.
While no one can predict the future, I can tell you about some studies conducted in recent years by the National Association of Theater Owners in the United States. These studies have found that consumers who go most often to the movies also consume streaming content just as frequently. In other words, they have an appetite for everything. And as another study finds, consumers consider a theatrical opening to be the stamp of quality. If a film has been released in the theaters, they know it has pedigree and deserves to be seen on the big screen.
The box office success for Disney’s Shang-Chi is proving that point right now. It has enjoyed record opening weekends, and it has staying power. It has grossed more than $390 million worldwide and, in the United States, it has become the first pandemic-era release to cross the $200 million mark.
The magic of the movies is as strong as ever ….
I happened to run across a Boxoffice article from 1957, about one of my predecessors at the Motion Picture Association, Eric Johnston, which is also part of Julien Marcel’s book “Hollywood Année Zéro”. Even then, more than 60 years ago, he was speaking of the crises and setbacks we have endured and always surmounted them with new vigor and growth.
Johnston said in 1957: “Do we face problems ahead? Of course we do. We live in a changing world in which only change itself is predictable. But the problems ahead can scarcely be any more critical than the ones we have solved in the past and left behind.”
We have solved every setback, and we have shown that we always come back, just like our favorite stories on screen. Our industry and by extension the creative sector is a lot like the title character in Amélie, a U.S.-French production released in 2001.
In that movie, Amélie is the very embodiment of self-belief and guileless charm who enriches the lives of everyone who comes into contact with her.
That is our industry at its best.
The elements of our future success are deceptively simple: they are the rich creativity, the economic vibrancy, and yes, the magic, we have always been known for.
Ever since the silent era, our industry – investors, producers, and distributors alike – have felt great solidarity with one another on both sides of the Atlantic. Our industry has always thrived thanks to our deeply held ties and the strength of our many collaborations.
And our comeback story is only just beginning.
As we find ourselves in the still challenging process of returning to production, with cinemas reopening, I believe we can see another 100 years of existence by continuing to incentivize this industry rather than dictating to it.
It’s a fundamental truth of human nature that we rise to expectations. The same applies to business. Investors want to invest where there is opportunity, not red tape, and transparency rather than a lack of clarity. In those environments, they will continue to support productions of all shapes and sizes, from the artistic to the commercial.
We will continue to fight against piracy, working globally through the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment, or “ACE”, and locally through the organization ALPA. ALPA is led by my good friend Nicolas Seydoux, whom I had the pleasure of seeing yesterday.
To prove how complementary these two efforts are, ACE recently managed to shut down some very stubborn and persistent pirate services based in North Africa that have been targeting the French market for years. What a relief it was to finally make progress there. And what a pleasure to be partnering with Maxime Saada and with our good friends at Canal+, among many others, in both ALPA and ACE.
Working together, in the spirit of Rocky, I feel that we are finally able to ‘go the distance’ when it comes to battling piracy, and even getting to enjoy some strategic knockouts of our own.
Working together, we are advocating at the European level for improvements to the Digital Services Act to further strengthen the fight against piracy. And that includes asking business infrastructure providers to honor the principle of “Know Your Business Customer.”
With that kind of cooperation…
With the pirates increasingly on the ropes…
And with the support of a regulatory and legal environment that protects copyright but remains flexible and adaptable to encourage inward investment…
With all of that the creative sector will be empowered more than ever…
Create great entertainment…
Astonish, delight, and move audiences…
Bring extraordinary stories to life…
And continue to make Europe – with France at its core – the powerful economic engine and bastion of great culture and creativity that the world knows it for.
Thank you for listening to me. Et que longtemps cette merveilleuse amitié entre nos pays continue!