A few weeks ago, French producer-writer-director association ARP announced that president Michel Hazanavicius would absent from their annual “Rencontres Cinématographiques de Dijon” industry conference, being held October 24-26 this year. Now the probable reason for his non-attendance has been reported: Since August 29, The Artist director has secretly been shooting his next feature, a remake of Fred Zinnemann’s 1948 drama The Search. The original followed a Czech mother and son looking for each other after being liberated from the concentration camps, but Hazanavicius has updated the post-World-War-II scenario to contemporary Chechnya.
The production announcement came as a surprise given that Hazanavicius spent most of the first half of the year making headlines for his statements about the embattled French film industry. In May, he published a heated piece in Le Monde criticizing domestic filmmakers’ financial practices and cynical use of public funding. “The game, for certain productions, becomes on one hand to inflate quotes to get the most money for funding,” he wrote, “and on the other hand to spend the least amount of money while making the film–resulting in the underpayment of technicians, outsourcing, and asking for discounts, etc., in order to make a high quantity of movies, regardless of the quality.” He also criticized the growing practice of paying stars big money for performances in movies that fail to recoup their investment, calling for gross receipt sharing to be instituted to combat salary inflation.
Hazanavicius also argued in favor of the “cultural exception.” Put simply, he argued that changing funding rules and other protective aspects of European film industries as part of forthcoming free trade talks would make it “very difficult for us to be competitive in a deregulated market. Americans can make a movie for $100 million, then sell it to the whole world. For us, our market is France. If you remove the cultural exception, we will not die, but [we] will calcify.” Though this position was condemned as “extremely reactionary” and part of “an anti-globalization agenda” by European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso, the cultural exception was preserved at subsequent trade talks.
Hazanavicius was equally upset in a July open letter to French president Francois Hollande about proposed budget cuts of 100 million Euros or more to the funding body National Cinema Center (CNC), citing potential job losses if domestic talent fled the country. “We have a hard time understanding why, after brilliantly saving the cultural exception, you would let our industry be destroyed,” he wrote. “You saved the rules of the game, do not let your teammates make you lose the game.” Now it’d appear Hazanavicius has taken time off from agitating on behalf of the French film industry to make a movie of his own.