No coin, no Cannes

Czech film groups protest subsidy veto

Czech film bizzers reacted angrily to Tuesday’s decision by the Czech parliament to reject a film law that would have given the industry a much-needed cash injection of $12.8 million a year, in addition to the currently measly $2.6 million.

In protest, the Czech stand in Cannes’ International Village shut early Wednesday, and the Czech Film Center in Prague went on strike. Also, the Czech Producers’ Assn. is considering withdrawing its backing from the upcoming Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

The law, which had taken eight years to develop, was passed by parliament May 12 but was vetoed by Czech president Vaclav Klaus. That sent it back to parliament, where, instead of overriding the president’s decision, the necessary majority was missed by three votes when several MPs left the room.

Before the ballot, Czech cultural minister Vitezslav Jandak, himself an actor, told MPs he didn’t care which way they voted or whether the law was passed.

“It’s like being betrayed by those who should support you,” said Pavel Strnad, Czech Producers’ Assn. topper.

Petr Vachler, creator of the Czech Lions awards, said the killing of the law was a dereliction of duty by Jandak, whose office drafted the law with film industry reps.

Strnad said the sudden lack of enthusiasm for the law is a result of a lobbying campaign by broadcasters, who would have had to pay 3% of their advertising revenue to help fund the new film subsidy.

“The Czech film industry is booming, but 80% consists of servicing foreign productions,” Strnad added. “How do you build up an indigenous production industry with $2.6 million? We can’t enter co-productions because we can’t bring any money to the table!”

Many bizzers suggest that, with the Czech parliamentary election just weeks away, introducing the film tax was considered too risky for the ruling Social Democrat party, which is polling slightly behind the opposition Civic Democrats.

The law, as written, would tax private terrestrials most heavily; thus, it’s likely Prime Minister Jiri Paroubek’s party thought it unwise to aggravate such powerful media forces as TV Nova and Prima TV.

“Speculation of corruption is rife,” said Czech Film Center head Jana Cernikova, describing the Czech film community as “outraged at their own government’s shameful actions.”

Once the election is over, the Producers’ Assn. plans to push the new government to finance the film law through the state budget.

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