UTRECHT — The Dutch Film Festival opened its doors Sept. 25 for its 22nd edition to a film community that is possibly wiser but certainly far less exuberant than it was a year ago.
At last year’s gala opening, Dutch filmers were on a roll: 23 new films were being screened, the highest number ever, and there was still hope that the Dutch tax incentive scheme would make a difference to the industry. This year there are 15 Dutch films unspooling and the mood is decidedly gloomy.
For Dutch filmmakers, in fact, it has been a year of living nervously. The highly touted Dutch tax incentive scheme got raked over the coals by everyone from tax inspectors to ministers with their own cultural agendas to Brussels watchdogs. While the latest version of it was put into effect July 16 and will last until the end of 2003, the waffling at the government level still hasn’t stopped.
Industry toppers are nearly unanimous that the uncertainty over the tax scheme has severely hurt the film community. “Dutch filmmakers have been the victims of this climate of governmental indecisiveness, and it has been very damaging,” says Toine Berbers, director of the country’s subsidizing org the Dutch Film Fund.
“The inconsistency makes it difficult now to sell projects to the banks and private investors,” adds Gamila Ylstra, director of Fine, a private corporation that has been funded by the government to act as an intermediary between producers and potential investors.
The latest rendition of the tax scheme is a shadow of its former self. It has rooted out some so-called abuses — including making it too attractive for American producers to cash in on the scheme — but it also yanked out some of the incentives as well.
Marc Noyons, director of Arteco, which finances pics through the scheme, says, “Investors can still make a profit, but obviously less than before.”
Frustration with the current situation is pushing filmers to look for solutions abroad. Says Noyons, “Some producers see the future as combining all kinds of European tax shelters.”
“Producers see you cannot get the money out of Holland,” notes Ellis Driessen, director of Holland Film Meeting, a fest sidebar that presents new projects by Dutch producers. “All of the projects were chosen this year for their ability to easily find international partners,” she adds.
This year’s fest boasts six premieres, among them “Rana’s Wedding,” a film directed by Palestinian helmer Hany Abu Assad and financed by the Palestinian Authority but largely produced by the Dutch.
Other preems include Peter Kramer’s “Guest House Klivia,” based on the enormously popular TV series of several decades ago, and Paula van der Oest’s “Moonlight.” The fest opens, however, not with a fiction film but rather with the Pieter Fleury documentary “Ramses,” about the popular Dutch singer-actor of several decades earlier, Ramses Shaffy.
There are a few signs of hope on the horizon. The Dutch Federation of Film Professionals, which represents several dozen film trade groups, announced Sept. 24 it wasn’t waiting for the government to dawdle any longer and would launch an investigation into, among other things, how the tax incentive scheme can be extended past its expiration date of end 2003. Some members of the industry also are hoping new vice minister of culture Cees van Leeuwen, a former rock musician, may see his way to lighting appropriate bureacratic fires to support film as well as music.
The troubles may be part of the maturation of the industry. Under the latest version of the new tax scheme, “Films have to be profitable now in order to interest investors,” notes Claudia Landsberger, managing director of Holland Film, the promotional arm for the Dutch government.
With few films being made last year, the number of Dutch pics being screened at festivals abroad also has been thinner on the ground.