Czech rivals agree on need for incentives

Concensus emerging in favor of film support

KARLOVY VARY — A new system of production incentives for the Czech Republic’s beleaguered film industry inched a little closer after two of the country’s top politicians agreed that something must be done about the collapse in foreign co-productions shooting in the country.

Revenue from foreign film productions shot in the Czech Rep. has fallen from $250 million to just $35 million in the past five years as overseas producers have been driven away by rising costs, a local currency that has doubled in value against the dollar — and the introduction of attractive tax and fiscal incentives for filmmakers in other countries in the region, including Hungary, Poland and Germany.

Foreign film shoots for high-profile projects, such as “The Bourne Identity” and “Casino Royale” — which once accounted for 75% of annual revenues for producers, studios and service providers here — now provide just 20% of annual Czech film industry revenue.

Czech producers, distributors and exhibitors have been urging the government to set up a system of incentives to level the playing field with Central European competitor countries for the past five years, but their arguments have, until now, fallen on deaf ears.

A new political consensus on addressing the crisis emerged Sunday during a television talkshow discussion between former prime minister and head of right of center party ODS, Mirek Topolanek, and Vitezslav Jandak, shadow minister of culture for the social democrat party CSSD.

The popular weekly political show — “Otazky Vaclava Moravce” (Questions with Vaclav Moravec) — aired live from the Karlovy Vary Film Festival.

Asked what they thought about the need for incentives to pull back international film business, the political opponents displayed a rare unanimity.

“These two parties rarely agree about anything, and, typically the Sunday talkshow is dominated by arguments, but on this occasion both of them agreed that something must be done,” said Ludmila Claussova, of the Czech Film Commission — a public agency that has been at the forefront of efforts to find a way forward for the film industry.

“Both men said they felt there was now the need for incentives in a situation where other European countries have systems in place — systems that now put the Czech film industry at an unfair disadvantage.”

With the country currently run by an interim government following the collapse last March of a coalition administration and a general election scheduled for the fall, film industry professionals sense an opening to get consensus from the ministries of finance and culture to draw up a plan to put before a new parliament later this year or early next.

Pavel Strnad, president of APA, the Czech Producers Association, who was a studio guest on Sunday’s show, said after years of struggling he was not holding his breath.

“I’ll believe it when I see it, but we have to do something — international production is at an all-time low and all our competitor countries now have systems to attract co-productions.”

For an overseas producer seeking to save money by filming in Europe, Hungary’s tax incentives — worth between 20% and 25% — was a compelling argument for big budget productions, as were Germany’s state film funds or Poland’s revolving national fund.

“The numbers are now so obvious that if nothing is done and the Czech film industry collapses, it will be entirely the fault of politicians,” Strnad added.

Although no single system had yet emerged as the model for a Czech incentive scheme, both Strnad and Claussova believe the German model of state and regional funds was a better fit for the Czech Republic than the tax rebates used by the Hungarians.

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