Pix stiffed as state subsid coin dries up

Polish producers threaten lawsuits

WARSAW — The Polish film production sector is teetering on the brink of bankruptcy, following what looks like the effective suspension of the country’s subsidy system.

The State Cinematographic Committee still owes $5 million in subsidy coin to a dozen of Poland’s leading producers for films shot last year. But it has run out of cash, and there now seems little prospect that these debts will be paid.

That means producers of movies by such luminaries as Roman Polanski, Agnieszka Holland and Krzysztof Zanussi will have to dig into their own pockets to cover the shortfall in production budgets that have already been spent.

Unsurprisingly, Polish producers are threatening legal action against the Film Production Agency, the unit of the Cinematographic Committee responsible for handing out coin.

Lititgious future?

“If the FPA doesn’t fulfil the contracts signed, one can expect a series of court cases,” says Dariusz Jablonski, chairman of the National Chamber of Producers. “We’ll defend our members, the filmmakers and the entire film industry.”

The problem has been caused partly by budget cuts from the Ministry of Culture, and partly by the FPA making too many promises.

With no cash in its coffers, the Cinematographic Committee is in a state of limbo. Poland’s new culture minister Andrzej Celinski has ordered it to be abolished on April 1, when it will likely be replaced by a new film department within his ministry.

But that won’t bring much respite for producers. The state budget proposal for 2002 includes just $750,000 for new film production — with no reference to the $6 million still owed from last year.

Meanwhile, other sources of production finance are also drying up. Pubcaster Polish TV is mired in financial difficulties of its own, and banks are becoming much more cautious about granting production loans.

More than a dozen producers have been left high and dry by the failure of the FPA to honor its promises of subsidy coin. Typically the FPA awards the money at script stage, covering between 5% and 30% of a film’s budget, contingent on the rest of the financing being raised from other sources. The producer borrows money against the FPA’s contract, and gets reimbursed once the film is made.

The state owes $365,000 to producers of the $17 million historical blockbuster “Quo Vadis.” The makers of “Spring to Come,” another big-budget movie, are owed $290,000. Producer Lew Rywin is owed $120,000 for Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist,” and another $120,000 for “Wiedzmin.”

Payment outstanding

Tor Film Studio has not yet received the $230,000 it was promised for Zanussi’s “Suplement,” nor the $158,000 for Holland’s “Julia Returns Home,” a German-Canadian-Polish co-production.

Those films have already been made. But with the state no longer seeming willing or able to offer cornerstone financing for upcoming projects, the prospects for production in the coming year look even bleaker.

Producer Henryk Romanowski has managed to finance his latest pic, “E=MC2,” without any state support, but he has little optimism about the future. The specter of mass unemployment looms across the production sector.

“I’ve been running a company for 12 years, but for the first time I cannot say what I will be doing next year,” says Romanowski. “We’re working on screenplays we’d like to film, but will we actually go out on set?”

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