Locals look to neighbor for tips on boosting industry

BERLIN — The Austrian film industry is hopeful. This time next year, the country may have a new government-backed financing vehicle patterned after Germany’s hugely successful $85-million-a-year Federal Film Fund (DFFF).

The recent success of Austrian films and high-profile productions that shot on location in Austria (including the James Bond pic “Quantum of Solace” and Nicolas Cage starrer “Season of the Witch”) as well as competitive factors in neighboring countries — such as Hungary with its 20% tax rebate and the low production costs in the Czech Republic and Slovakia or Germany’s well-endowed subsidies — has helped rally support for a local incentive, which could be anywhere between E10 million ($14.2 million) and $28 million.

Austrian finance minister and vice chancellor Josef Proell has said the initiative has the full support of his office and widespread backing from the country’s coalition government.

Austrian film commissioner Arie Bohrer, head of Location Austria, asserts: “There’s plenty of political support. The success of Austrian films and co-productions in the last two years as well as international productions that shot here, especially the Bond film, has been very persuading.”

Indeed, the country celebrated the success of two Austrians at the Cannes Film Festival this year, as director Michael Haneke picked up the Palme d’Or for “The White Ribbon” and Christoph Waltz received best actor kudos for his performance in Quentin Tarantino’s “Inglourious Basterds.”

Last year, Austrian cinema enjoyed its biggest success ever when Stefan Ruzowitzky’s “The Counterfeiters” won the Oscar for best foreign film; that was followed by another Academy Award nomination this year for Goetz Spielmann’s “Revanche.”

The fact that Haneke’s film was produced mostly with German money and Waltz won for a performance in a U.S. production has only made the demands for greater funding opportunities in the country that much louder.

Roland Teichmann, CEO of the Austrian Film Institute, the country’s main federal film funding org, says approval for a new financing initiative looks likely this year: “As far as I can see, it’s on a good (path) and likely to be installed and operational by January next year. The political will seems to be unanimous, and it is only a question of how much money will be put into this fund rather than if it will actually come true.”

Martin Gschlacht, producer, cinematographer and founding member of Vienna-based Coop99 Filmproduktion, says, “The German model clearly shows that creative potential, the domestic film industry and the finance minister all profit at the end of the day. This is a step toward survival for Austrian filmmakers, producers and film industry service providers.”

Gschlacht says that as a cameraman, he hasn’t completed a single film in Austria in the past two years due to the fact that German film labs are automatically 20% cheaper due to support from the DFFF. “It’s about time that we have an equal opportunity for Austrian companies.”

Austria’s federal and regional film subsidies currently provide a combined total of about $37 million to the industry. The Austrian Film Institute currently has an annual budget of $22.1 million, set to increase to $23.5 million next year.

Whether the institute will oversee the new fund is a political question that remains to be decided, but Teichmann says it will certainly work closely with the new government initiative.

More subsidy money is always good news to European filmmakers and especially so in Austria, where the local industry has long felt neglected by the government.

Most Austrian films have to rely on international co-producers. While “The Countefeiters” received $2.5 million from Austrian funders, it also picked up about $1.7 million from German subsidies, not to mention international distribution via Munich-based Beta Cinema.

“We are a comparatively small production country with quite a good output and diversity of high-quality films,” Teichmann says, pointing out that Austria’s limited funding resources and an ongoing financial crisis at pubcaster ORF — for years the local industry’s long-term production partner — has resulted in a strong dependence on international co-production partners.

“At the moment, it is almost impossible to fully fund and finance a film in Austria with a budget of about E2 million ?$2.8 million?.”

It’s no different for most of Austria’s Venice submissions. Main competition titles “Lourdes” and “Women Without Men,” for example, are both Austrian-German-French co-productions, both from Vienna’s Coop99 Filmproduktion, Berlin’s Essential Films and Paris-based Societe Parisienne de Production.

“International coproductions make international topics possible, and above all they reach an international audience,” says Gschlacht, who produced and served as cinematographer on both “Lourdes” and “Women Without Men.” “The objective of Coop99 has always been to make European films for the European market — and beyond — rather than just for the Austrian market.”

“Lourdes,” a spiritual drama by Jessica Hausner, received some $1.7 million from Austrian funders, including more than $535,000 from Vienna Film Fund, $500,000 from German subsidies and another $500,000 from European org Eurimages.

Likewise, Shirin Neshat’s Iranian drama “Women Without Men” also received support coin from both Austria and Germany.

Another upcoming high-profile pic, Urs Odermatt’s German-Austrian-Swiss co-production “Mein Kampf,” an adaptation of George Tabori’s grotesque theatrical work starring Tom Schilling as a young Adolf Hitler, received much of its coin from a slew of German subsidies as well as support from Austrian and Swiss film orgs. The $3.8 million production premieres at the Montreal World Film Festival.

Of the six Austrian films screening in Venice this year, only one, Peter Schreiner’s “Toto,” is a 100% domestic production.

For Teichmann, however, that is far from being a problem: “Film needs national roots, European and international seeds as well as artistic and economic exchange. Film is not an island.”

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