Strapped indies warm up to int'l co-prods
Russia is getting serious about co-productions, with changes in the way public money is channeled to filmmakers making international cooperation more attractive.The boom years that saw hundreds of films made in Russia with local coin did little to encourage producers to look abroad for finance. All that changed last year when the Ministry of Culture, which oversaw the distribution of public funds to filmmakers, unveiled a new funding system with some $68 million granted to eight large production companies. The idea is that producers — including Nikita Mikhalkov’s Tri-Te studio and Kino Direksiya, which works with Russian pubcaster First Channel — will make at least three movies a year with the money, pulling in 30% of the budgets from private sources and working with other industry partners. The change has spurred independent producers to develop a greater openness to co-productions. “Although co-production is still not a big issue for most Russian producers, we are trying to raise awareness of the benefits of working with producers from other countries — particularly those in Europe,” says Anna Katchko, a producer with Moscow-based Tandem Production who helped organize the Business Square event to encourage co-productions at June’s Moscow film festival. “It is likely that in the coming years there may be less money available for arthouse productions, so it makes sense to begin looking at different models for funding such films.” They are not entirely without official backing. Amendments to the cinematography law introduced in May are designed to make co-productions easier. Alexey Sokhnev of the Ministry of Culture’s cinematography department says changes ease earlier restrictions on the percentage of foreign investment permitted for a film to qualify as Russian — and therefore be eligible for public funding. “There will be more opportunities for foreign producers to make films with Russian partners even if they are not working under existing intergovernmental treaties, as producers can apply for state support in Russia,” Sokhnev says. The rules ease conditions that made working with Russian filmmakers outside of those treaties harder. Now, provided the main producer is Russian or a Russian company, half the investment can come from a foreign producer, half the creative team — director, scriptwriter — can be foreign and up to 30% of the crew. The new regulations should see the number of co-productions grow from only 40 in the past four years, Sokhnev says. German producers are likely to be among the key beneficiaries of the new rules. Efforts to establish an intergovernment co-production treaty have been under way for some years and filmmakers in both countries have forged close links. Fostering strong co-prods ties is the CentEast Moscow Film Forum, aimed at presenting a selection of Russia and Eastern European works-in-progress for distributors, sales agents and festival programmers. The event, which runs Oct. 22-24, will involve a day of screenings and a day of one-on-one meetings. It’s a joint initiative between Moscow-based independent production company Tvindie and the Warsaw Film Foundation. “It is essential for us to do co-productions, because it will allow our films to get wider distribution and it will result in more competitive productions that we able to produce,” says Yevgeny Gindilis, head of Tvindie. “The other important consideration is the possibility to finance our films more independently outside the malfunctioning system of the state financing in Russia.”
— Nick Holdsworth
Box office strength drives screen upgrades across region The big story in Russia’s entertainment community is its hot box office. Russia continues to be among Europe’s strongest cinema markets, despite a drop in box office last year to $735 million from a record-breaking $835 million in 2008. Analysis of industry figures shows that, measured in roubles and attendance, box office and turnstile numbers in Russia were actually up last year. More than 132 million tickets were sold, compared with 118 million in 2008. Dollar receipts — used for international comparisons — do not do justice to the health of a market. Investment in production also reflects the underlying strong fundamentals of the Russian market. Gross capital investment has steadily risen over the past five years: In 2009, a total of 9.8 billion roubles ($314 millon) — nearly double that of 2006 — was spent on making movies in Russia. Ticket prices fluctuate and are boosted by the premium cinemagoers are willing to pay for 3D screenings, which are also rising. The average cinema ticket in Russia has risen from $5.30 last year to $6.60. And figures for the first six months of Russia’s box office year, which runs December through November, suggest that 2010 could be another boom campaign. Box office takings, at $394 million for the first six months, are on pace to exceed 2009’s even though admissions, at nearly 60 million, are dragging behind last year’s measure. Digital and 3D film releases continue to rise: So far this year, 53 digital films and six 3D films have been released out of a total of 133 releases. Last year, 96 digital and 18 3D releases hit screens. New cinemas and screens continue to be built in smaller towns and cities as Russia steadily modernizes its exhibition infrastructure. By the end of 2010 there will be some 2,300 modern screens across the country.
— Nick Holdsworth Focus on Hungary
National funder looks for family films, animation The Hungarian Film Foundation (MMK) gave out $2.2 million last year to seven films, including Istvan Szabo’s “The Door.” But because resources are lean at the MMK, producers have been looking across national borders for other options — and getting more adept at finding them. Over the last six years, some 14 Hungarian films were backed at least in part by the Vienna Film Fund, to name just one example. International co-production rules are complex, however, and, just as in Romania, many producers invest so much time in deciphering and coordinating the rules that they end up founding their own production companies to keep the processes up and running. Gabor Kovacs of Budapest-based Filmpartners (“Bibliotheque Pascal”) says new leadership at the MMK is helping the scene progress. Org has committed to reaching new levels of coordination with funding sources, sales agents and distribs abroad in order to help Hungarian film folk through the thicket, explains Kovacs. Adds MMK rep Kata Olah: “The aim is to have as much European production as possible,” And, she says, the org “will focus on family films, hoping to increase the box office in Hungarian cinemas. We also would like to give special attention to animated films.”
— Will Tizard Focus on Czech Republic
Foreign incentives poised for action The Czech Republic’s great hope for restoring its once-thriving foreign production biz, a 20% film incentive, moved closer to reality June 18 when the European Commission approved the plan, which would set up a $24.5 million kitty. Foreign shoots are not just a cash boon but also drive the local production scene, helping to keep small shingles, crews and studios in business. That’s a terrific windfall as Czech producers are busier than ever — even Karlovy Vary fest programming director Julietta Sichel has taken a sabbatical to steer a feature portraying the life of Russian dissident poet Anna Barkova, “8 Heads of Madness.” Some 28 Czech films are expected to wrap by 2011, with a further 36 in development. But whether the pace can be sustained is another question. Much of the impetus is the one-time coin created though the sale of digital TV broadcast licenses, which has helped fill the coffers of the Czech Cinematography Fund. This org, along with pubcaster Czech TV, remains the most direct source for funding, but that revenue ends in 2011, which is driving producers to seek alternative strategies like co-productions.
— Will Tizard Focus on Poland
Title play in Moscow, Karlovy Vary, San Sebastian, Pusan The key debate within Poland today is how the country’s buoyant film industry can produce films that travel well. Critics point to the lack of Polish films at Berlin and Cannes. But Maciej Karpinski, head of international relations at the Polish Film Institute, points out that Polish films are already scheduled for participation in competition at Moscow, Karlovy Vary, San Sebastian, Pusan and other fests this year, and that a bid for Venice is being considered. “It does not mean that we are fully satisfied with our — and our producers’ — international activities,” Karpinski says. “Certainly we can do more and are currently working on it.” Actress-turned-director Malgorzata Potocka (whose next film is “Boulevard Voltaire”) says Poland has many talented, energetic young directors, but the general atmosphere in the country is “a mess psychologically. “We feel a bit lost, quite apart from finding money,” she says. “We have no tradition of producers, while scriptwriting and doctoring is weak.”
— Nick Holdsworth Focus on Romania
Younger generation sets new cinematic standards If only Romania hadn’t won at Cannes in 2007, goes the curious refrain. “This was a poison gift,” says critic Mihai Chirilov of the surprise victory of Cristian Mungiu’s “4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days” and the subsequent result: The Western movie world’s eyes have turned eastward to see what’s going on. “Now when we get to Cannes and we don’t win,” Chirilov says, “people say the movie must be bad.” The line is half in jest, of course, and Romania is seizing its long-awaited opportunity to reach out with some 35 films debuting in the next year, plus a further 22 in development — an armada that spans suspense, domestic drama, comedy and docus, among other genres. A film law change passed in May gives the funding system far less transparency and input from working professionals, sparking mass protests. The other engine for film coin, foreign shoots, remains in gear, thanks to the affordability and professionalism of the Romanian film scene, together with a spate of modernized studios such as Castel, MediaPro and Kentauros.