Change to production funding formula sparks protests

Public financing of Bulgarian filmmaking is in crisis after the parliament amended the formula for production support.

Changes to the Film Industry Act earlier this month have freed the government from keeping funding at last year’s level.

This has sparked a wave of protests by a coalition of film and arts bodies outside the culture ministry and other government offices in Sofia, and led to meetings with Prime Minister Boyko Borisov, as well as the dismissal of deputy culture minister Dimitar Dereliev.

The changes — part of an austerity budget introduced by right-wing ruling party GERB — state that “if possible,” up to seven features, 14 docus and 160 minutes of animation will get state funding next year.

Protestors say that means the government can back out of its funding promises, killing off a new wave of Bulgarian films.

These have included critically or commercially acclaimed films such as Kamen Kalev’s “Eastern Plays,” Stephan Komandarev’s “The World Is Big and Salvation Lurks Around the Corner,” Drago Sholev’s “Shelter” and Dimitar Mitovski’s comedy “Mission London,” which drew a record 375,000 cinemagoers and local box office of nearly $1.8 million following its release in April.

“Mission London” producer Ivan Doykov, who is developing a Russian sequel to the film, has been among protestors on the streets of Sofia. “I understand there is a world financial crisis and that it is difficult for the government to fulfill the regulations of the film law, but alternative ways of financing the film industry must be set up,” Doykov told Daily Variety.Tax credits, a lottery scheme or levy on commercial TV or foreign film distributors could all help create more secure funding conditions to maintain national film, he said.Mira Staleva, head of Sofia Meetings — an industry event that runs during the Sofia film festival — said the government had not been fulfilling its funding obligations even before the changes to the law. The future of Bulgarian film was in jeopardy, she said.

“Bulgarian film is under threat if the law remains as it is because that will allow it to be manipulated and political forces in power to decide if it is possible to finance Bulgarian cinema.

“If nothing changes within two years there may be nothing for financing film projects.”

Meetings with the prime minister and protestors are showing some signs of progress. Borisov dismissed Dereliev — blamed for promising much but doing little — following last weekend’s meeting, and he has agreed to set up a working group, including protest leaders and culture ministry officials, to look at alternative funding.Alexander Donev, head of the Bulgarian National Film Center, through which funding is routed, said change was needed as the funding formula was “good when the economy is growing but impossible to fulfill in times of crisis and budgetary cuts.”

Criticized by some in the Bulgarian film community for failing to protest against the threat to funding, Donev told Variety that as an executive agency of the culture ministry, the NFC was unable to comment on parliamentary decisions.

He said in 2011 the agency would fund the post production of six features shot this year and back another five or six due to start filming.

Debts accrued over the past two years when more projects were approved than financing was available — due to a lengthy and bureaucratic two-stage funding process — may cause some restrictions, but he hoped, “there will be some major Bulgarian features approved next year and their financing can start in 2012.”

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