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Bals Fund bounces to success

Fund a triumph in the arthouse pic sector

After a bumper harvest in 2010, everyone wants to know the secret of the Hubert Bals Fund’s success. It backed Cannes winner “Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives,” Locarno winner “Winter Vacation” and “Verano de Goliat,” which took the Orizzonti prize at Venice. It also supported two of the three Tiger award winners at last year’s Rotterdam fest.

“I’m not sure if there is really a secret,” says fund topper Iwana Chronis. “We select projects, and a lot of them don’t have this international success. Every year is different.”

The fund, hosted by the Rotterdam fest, has close to €1.2 million ($1.56 million) to spend each year supporting filmmakers in developing countries. Grants are given for script and project development, digital production and post-production. It also funds workshops and film distribution costs in the country of origin.

Competition is stiff, so projects need an extra ingredient to win over the selection committee.

“We are looking for something innovative, that we haven’t seen before, that impresses us, that has an urgency or a story that hasn’t been told before,” Chronis explains. “We also look at the background of the filmmaker, the potential he or she has for this film, and its financial and creative feasibility.”

Some parts of the world, such as Latin America, rise to the challenge more readily than others. “We don’t receive that many applications from African filmmakers, and we are looking for ways to be a bit more proactive there,” Chronis says.

To raise awareness of the fund, a package of its films visited 11 African film festivals last year, with a return trip planned in 2011. The fund also awarded a prize to the most promising project in the inaugural Durban FilmMart, and is supporting workshops for African film professionals.

“With these small initiatives we are trying to increase our focus on Africa,” Chronis says.

After a bumpy few years, the fund had its coin from Dutch ministry of foreign affairs renewed 2009. This will see it over the worst of the financial crisis, but there may still be trouble ahead.

“Both culture and development aid are expecting major cutbacks in the next few years. Our financing is secured until the end of 2012, but as from 2013 we will have to look for further financing.” Chronis explains. “We have a long-standing partnership with the ministry, so we hope we can extend that further, but we don’t know yet. It’s a very insecure time.”

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