'Coriolanus' shoot brings focus to film locations biz

A modern interpretation of one of Shakespeare’s most challenging tragedies is being credited with helping put Serbia back on the international filmmaking map.

The directorial debut of Ralph Fiennes, “Coriolanus” was shot on location in Belgrade and is making its world premiere in competition at the Berlinale.

Fiennes chose Belgrade as well as other locations in Serbia and neighboring Montenegro both for artistic and economic reasons.

Thesp, who plays the title role in the film, wanted a city that was not well known to international audiences for his modern-day interpretation of the story of a Roman general who mounts a rebellion against the empire. After scouting locations in Romania and Croatia, he settled on Serbia because he felt it offered a versatile mixture of locations.

“Belgrade is a strong atmospheric city with locations we could not get elsewhere, like the interior of the national parliament,” Fiennes says. “We did not have the resources to build that sort of set.”

Fiennes freely admits that cost was a major factor in his decision: “I needed a city, and we were extremely financially challenged. The scope of the film was quite ambitious, and Serbia offered competitive costs.”

Shooting in Belgrade, the industrial city of Pancevo and in ports in Montenegro, Fiennes — who based himself in Belgrade during the nine-week shoot along with a cast that includes Vanessa Redgrave and Gerard Butler — was helped by the Serbian Film Commission, an independent but partially government-backed association of Serbian producers and filmmakers set up in 2009 to lobby for the local film industry.

Ana Ilic, executive director of the organization, which uses the brand Film in Serbia to advertise the country as a location internationally, worked closely with Fiennes to help bring the production to the country.

Fiennes also needed help with local and national bureaucracy for a film that demanded military equipment, such as tanks and weapons, and the troops to go with them.

The Serbian interior and defense ministries stepped in to help, and the commission’s political connections opened the doors to filming in the national parliament, city hall, factories and industrial locations.

When the original U.S. producers dropped out, Serbia’s Hermetof Pictures came in as a co-producer alongside Artemis Films, Atlantic Swiss Prods. and Magnolia Mae Films.

Attracting such a high-profile production to Serbia has provided a huge boost to the country’s film industry, Ilic says.

Before Yugoslavia broke up and descended into the brutal civil war of the 1990s, Serbia was a key international film location. War and international isolation under dictator Slobodan Milosevic brought that to a swift end but the country’s return to democracy and move toward closer links with the European Union have opened it up again to international cooperation.

Fiennes’ film has started a buzz about the country that its Berlinale competition slot is likely to increase.

Sci-fi thriller “Lockout,” exec produced by Luc Besson, was filmed in Serbia last year, as was “The Raven,” a fictionalized account of the last days of Edgar Allan Poe’s life, starring John Cusack.

A number of other international projects are close to committing to filming in the country, Ilic says.

The importance of attracting high-profile projects cannot be overstated, she notes, adding that the employment and opportunities “Coriolanus” and the other projects brought to Serbia helped win political support for an incentive program.

“One advantage of not being a member of the EU is that we do not need any cultural tests to offer productions a simple cash rebate to film here,” Ilic says.

A production incentive program — details of which are under wraps and yet to be finalized — should be launched later this year.

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