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Dubbing in France: 1920’s To Date Descriptive Essay

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Updated: May 12th, 2020


Agreementwith other film industries to open the markets for films placed France within the major risk of foreign interference. Subtitling was also not allowed per se leaving dubbing as the solitaryoption of domesticating foreign films.

The 1920’s

By 1920’s, the whole of France and Western Europe was recovering from the destructions of the world war one, thus they were making desperate moves to dominate a large portion of the market as possible. In the early 1920’s, there was no stiff competition in the film industry and films were produced mostly for the local market.

There was no foreign competition due to quotas which limited the number of films that could be imported where American films were permitted to a maximum of 20%. But later on, the market share taken by America in the film industry on foreign markets became colossal making it impossible for a single country to challenge America single-handedly (Thompson 1996).

The ascending to power of Edouard Herriot brought about great changes in the French market, when he called for Europe to unite and have a common market. French film industry was poorly structured and many firms in the film industry were family owned and small which released a few films before going under. On top of that, dubbing was expansive, time consuming and labour intensive making film production to require much higher budgets than France could afford (Danan 1991).

Market Dominance

The film Europe policy of 1920’s allowed importation of films into the French market, thereby increasing the number of films coming in from other European countries especially Germany at the expense of the local industry (O’Brien, n.d.).

Importance of dubbed films also increased films from the United States of America which was advanced technologically compared to France increasing the foreign dominance in the French market. Though France also exported dubbed films to other European countries especially Germany, its industry was not technologically advanced to compete favourably in the market. Between 1926-1930, enormous portions of the French market was held by foreigners with the USA controlling up to 50% while Germany controlled around 23% (Bergan 2008).

To protect the local film industry, the French government introduced regulations to limit the number of imported dubbed films on 1st may, 1928 to seven for every one film produced in France. This was later to be changed to three imported dubbed films for every one locally produced by Frances’s chambre syndicale on 27th February 1929 (Remi 2002).

The Invention of Sound

Invention of sound in the film industry in 1929 reduced foreign competition due to language barrier. Also with the expectation of sales increases, investment in the film industry increased.

Furthermore, larger firms like “Gaumont-Franco-Film-Aubert”, ventured into the industry and production increased significantly with the target being the French speaking countries. This saw the decrease of foreign dominance with America’s market share decreasing to 43% by 1932. Incidentally, there was an over estimation as to the extent to which language will be of benefit to the French industry.

Dubbing technology was quickly advanced to counter the language barrier, and once again France found itself in the middle of a crisis with stiffer competition not only in the foreign market but also in the local one (Danan 1994). Due to the high rate of collapsing among the firms in the film industry investment remained low as well as credit, which gave room for importation of dubbed films as Frances’s local demand was higher than the supply.

Importation versus Local

The number of imported dubbed films dominated the local market in France in the 1920’s and early 1930’s with the majority being from America and Germany while the local industry was deteriorating (Richard 1984). The cooperation between France and Germany in the 1920’s promoted the dominance of Germany in the French market, and further weakened the French industry because among other factors dubbing was done by foreign firms.

The quota of dubbed features hindered specifically the number of foreign films allowed into the country to 140 from 24th July 1933 to 30th June 1934 and 94 to the end of 1934, leading to the decline of the foreign market share (Film birth 2009).

As a result of this, the popularity of French films improved over the American imported films increasing the local market under French control to nearly 50%. On the other hand, inbox receipts increased raising the income of the local firms alleviating the crisis that had prevailed in the film industry (Steer 1995).

The French film industry was made up of small firms which were not innovative coupled with the fact that they were not well structured, making France unable to control their market and perform poorly in the foreign market. Due to this, dubbing was also foreign based where all films were dubbed in foreign countries and only imported as finished products (Szarkowska 2005). Consequently, France was forced to keep its budgets low therefore unable to benefit from large scale production.

Dubbing was also allowed on the condition that it was to take place in French territory, which was a move tailored to ensure that the dubbing process was healthy to the French economy while at the same time allowing local industry to flourish (William and Hughes 2001). This made the government to pass a decree on 29th July 1932 which allowed only films dubbed in France in the market (Walford 2007).


Dubbing was inevitable in France since culture and language had to protect. On the same note, importation of dubbed films contributed to the weakening of the local cinema industry hence affecting the economy as a whole. Invention of sound was not as advantageous as was expected by the local industry.

The government of France therefore, needed to implement rules and decrees which could the process of dubbing health to the economy. Much still needed to be done other than the decrees and quotas, in boosting the local film industry which had lugged behind both technologically and financially.


Bergan, R. 2008. . The Guardian. Web.

Danan, M. 1991. Dubbing as an Expression of Nationalism. Journal de Traducteurs Meta, xxxvi, 4, pp. 606-614. Web.

Danan, M. 1994. From Nationalism to Globalization: France’s Challenges to Hollywood’s Hegemony, Michigan: Ann Arbor.

Film Birth 2009. History of Cinema in France. Web.

O’Brien, C. Stylistic Description as Historical Method: French Films of The German Occupation – Style In Cinema. Web.

Remi, L., F. 2002. French Cinema: From it’s Beginnings to the Present, New York: Continuum. Web.

Richard, A. 1984. French Cinema: The First Wave, 1915-1929, Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Steer, M. 1995. . Web.

Szarkowska, A. 2005. . Translation Journal, 9(2) pp. 76. Web.

Thompson, K. 1996. . History and Film Association of Australia. PP. Web.

Walford, M. 2007. , 2007 Warwick: Blogs. Web.

William, J. and Hughes, A. 2001. Gender and French Cinema. New York: Berg Publishers.

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