Cottbus debate lauds new initiatives

COTTBUS, GERMANY — Two new Balkans independent national film funds are due to start working in Croatia and Macedonia early 2008, improving prospects for regional and European co-productions, participants at a Connecting Cottbus industry roundtable heard Thursday. Zagreb’s new Croatian Audio Visual Center — as the fund is known — will be entirely separate from the Croatian ministry of culture, the former umbrella body for film funding, and is due to begin working January, Sanja Ravlic, a Croatian producer involved in helping set it up, told a Focus Former Yugoslavia panel discussion at the Cottbus Festival of East European Cinema event.

The new body, which received its parliamentary approval in Zagreb last July and is modelled on the U.K. Film Council and Irish Film Board, will have an annual budget of Euros 5 million ($7.3 million).

A levy on audiovisual companies — television stations and other businesses — should add a further $14.6 million annually to fund local and international co-productions, distribution, international relations, exhibition, script and project development, Ravlic of Zagreb production company Metafilm said.

“The new audiovisual center is very good news and all filmmakers and producers are keen to see it working,” she added.

In Macedonia — where there are only five functioning cinemas and just four films have been made in the past three years — filmmakers are hoping that a new film fund in the process of being set up will be working by next year.

Teona Strugar Mitevska, whose new film “I Am From Titov Veles” played in competition August at the Sarajevo Film Festival and is programmed for the Berlinale Panorama next February, said the new structure, which would also move state funding away from the country’s culture ministry, would provide stability for filmmakers.

“Private funding simply does not exist in Macedonia; the only way to fund film is through such bodies or by participating in regional or European co-productions,” she said.

Serbia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, two of the other former Yugoslav republics, both have functioning state funding bodies, panel members from those countries remarked.

Sarajevo-based producer Amra Balsic-Camo said the $1.024 million of annual state film funding was channeled through a complex network of government agencies. Between two and four films a year won support she said, adding that surprisingly for a small country of just 3.5 million people, where post civil war ethnic divisions are codified in the country’s political set up (it is a federation with a semi-autonomous Serbian region based around Banja Luka within it), as much as 40% of annual film production is made only for local Bosnian and Croatian distribution.

Serbian director Oleg Novkovic said that Belgrade’s recently established Film Center of Serbia provided a maximum of some $500,000 for individual feature film projects. A law stipulating that television stations paid a levy to the film center had been widely flouted but political action was now being taken by the culture ministry that should see around $1.4 million added annually to film funds in the future.

Striking a negative note, Slovenian Dunja Klemenc — who was a producer on acclaimed Balkans war film “No Man’s Land” — said film funding in her country had been all but destroyed by a minister of culture she accused of “hating film.”

Producers had been so desperate that they went so far as to arrange a meeting between the minister and European Union information, society and media commissioner Viviane Reding, in a fruitless attempt to resolve a situation that leaves Slovenian producers almost entirely reliant on co-productions if they want to make movies, Klemenc said.

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