The Peripheral Aesthetic
The causes of the European Debt Crisis are still in the process of being fully recognized and addressed. Those most critical of the Greek, Portuguese, and Spanish administrations merely blame “living out of one’s means” as the primary culprit for the continent’s plummet into economic uncertainty. Others consider the matter more complex in origin, pointing to the supply and demand of a regular investor’s market, where brazen defaulting and a lack of foreign trust contributed to the overflowing and cataclysmic nature of the crisis.
One primary source of blame was and currently remains the introduction of the euro. Its initial intention was to merely promote greater market integration between members of the European Union, eschewing the need for random exchange rates plaguing the flow of capital from one country to another. This increased flow of capital to capital-poor countries. This was the imperative ingredient in the process of economic convergence. Given that the capital-rich countries were generally centrally-located within the union, these nations were afforded the ability to take advantage of the relatively high rates of return from the periphery nations. Since the adoption of the euro in 1999, the account deficits of the Union’s peripheral countries grew enormously as the central benefactors became hubs of capital outflow.
As a result of this, by 2004, there were almost no differences in the interest rates in the central and peripheral nations matched. However, what precipitated the crisis was the very fact that the capital outflow was based entirely on investor whims. The sudden cut-off of capital influx then left many periphery countries with debt that they were unable to roll-over. In 2009, this influx ceased, and regardless of how well the peripheral nations managed their economies – Ireland and Spain particularly, were largely fiscally prudent during the 2005 to 2008 period, for example. The greatest predictor for which countries would be hardest hit in 2009 wasn’t which countries actually maintained poor budgeting and excessive spending, but rather, which countries were receiving the most amount of capital from centralized investors. Portugal, Greece, and Spain ranked one, two, and three on that measure, with Ireland a distant fourth. So what triggered the sudden cease and desist order in 2009? The global recession of 2008 convinced investors that perhaps they should pull out while they have the chance. The obvious early victims of this pull-out were federally funded art programs. The European model of filmmaking, unlike the American model, relies almost entirely on government-funded cultural lotteries to supply most of the funding for feature film projects. When such income is not available, most films simply do not get made or are relegated to finding their finishing funds from private donors. This, of course, affects what type of material gets produced – often times directors that have a track record or a history of festival unit successes are occasionally granted private funding. Already wealthy filmmakers can merely finances their projects alone. However, the common filmmakers, burgeoning and middle-class, is then forced to derive new methods by which to bring their projects to fruition. Often times, this involves the derivation of cheaper mediums, including digital, the use of cheaper talent, frequently stage talent unfamiliar with cinematic practices or simply unpaid non-actors off the street corners, and the adoption of simplified narratives (or no narrative at all) with unadorned single-location environments – all in the likely effort to reduce the expenses of on-set production. With cinema attendance in Spain recently reported at an all-time low, dropping 15%, the aim of these cinema’s will likely be different from the seat-fillers of yesteryear. A new type of entertainment might emerge that espouses different rewarding methods for viewership or shirks rewarding the viewing experience all together.
The result of large-scale budget cutting is readily reflected in the national and metropolitan-wide film festivals of these peripheral countries. The Thessaloniki International Film Festival in Greece had a budget of 8.488 million euros in 2009. It was reduced to 1.350 million in 2014, and now resides at a measly 700,000 for its 2015 run, 95% of which comes from foreign consulate and cultural institution aid. Furthermore, only seven films in the 2015 Thessaloniki International Film Festival were originated from Greece. The financial woes for Greek filmmakers in particular are bountiful. Yorgos Lanthimos, the most recognizable figure of the Greek New Wave suffered such difficulties funding his third film, despite winning Best Screenplay at the Venice International Film Festival for his second, he was forced to partially relocate to London.
Another especially relevant artistic outcropping to configure into the contemporary context of the peripheral national cinemas is the Depression Era project, which “seeks to stand outside the media montage and white noise of current public discourse by creating its own mosaic of images and text” derived from the crisis.