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Europe Strives to Catch up with Digital Revolution in Hollywood

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As film critics hunker down in Cannes for the next week and a half to assess the state of cinematic art, millions of people across Europe will buy tickets to Hollywood blockbusters like Iron Man 2 and How to Train Your Dragon.

Europeans flocking to the cinema are contributing to a global boom in box-office receipts and generating a rare bit of good news for the troubled media industry. But American movie studios are enjoying most of the benefit.

The American export boom is being fueled by movies with three-dimensional effects, including How to Train Your Dragon and Avatar, the biggest-grossing film of all time. European moviemakers were initially skeptical about the technology, reckoning that the novelty would wear off and, perhaps, that Grard Depardieu in two dimensions was already more than enough.

European producers have been a lot slower to grasp the initiative, said Charlotte Jones, analyst at Screen Digest, a research firm in London.

As a result, locally produced films lost ground at the European box office last year, falling to 26.7 percent of ticket sales from 28.2 percent in 2008, according to the European Audiovisual Observatory in Strasbourg. Analysts say the European films share has deteriorated further this year, especially in France, the biggest movie producer in Europe and usually a redoubt of strength for domestic productions.

The setback followed a good run for European filmmakers, during which they produced movies with ever broader audience appeal. France led the way, with films like Amlie in 2001, and European success continued through 2008 with Bienvenue chez les Chtis, also from France, and Slumdog Millionaire, from Britain.

The recent reversal of fortunes is reviving worries about the commercial dominance of Hollywood among European film producers and cultural authorities.

Given the number of American films in 3-D that have appeared, it is very important that French production gets going, said Stphanie Gavardin, a spokeswoman for the Centre National du Cinma in France.

The agency, which coordinates public financing for the French movie business, has approved subsidies totaling 1.3 million, or $1.7 million, to about 20 3-D film projects, she said. None of these films has reached theaters yet, but a number are expected to do so next year.

Elsewhere in Europe, 3-D films are starting to emerge. In what is being billed as the first release of a European-made live action 3-D film, StreetDance 3D, a British movie featuring dance troupes that made their names via television talent contests, is set to appear in cinemas this month.

Perhaps the highest-profile European 3-D project is a French-German coproduction, Resident Evil: Afterlife. The film, based on a video game series and starring Milla Jovovich, is set for release in September.

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