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Eastern Europe incentives lure films

Nations wrestle with funding feast and famine

While the U.K. and Italy wrestle with the film community over cuts to government funds, Eastern Europe is divided into haves and have-nots, with countries like Poland and the Czech Republic pressing strategies that lure productions from outside their borders, while nations like Hungary and Bulgaria struggle to redefine ways to finance the local industries.

In Poland, the Polish Film Institute fund pumps about $30 million into production annually, while the Czech Republic is enjoying the upside of its 20% production rebate program, which has boosted the country’s intake of foreign shoots since its introduction last year.

Also looking to lure foreign shoots is Serbia, which has just introduced a 15% cashback rebate for foreign productions. Ralph Fiennes recently shot his directorial debut, “Coriolanus,” there.

Other countries in the region are less fortunate.

In Hungary, a right-of-center government has introduced a national austerity program that includes a major shake-up in the way soft money is channeled to filmmakers.

Funding to the Hungarian Motion Picture Public Foundation (MMKA) has been slashed and Hungarian-born Hollywood producer Andrew Vajna drafted as film commissioner charged with coming up with a new funding formula.

Some tough decisions are due for producers holding letters of intent promising funds that no longer exist, but there is a degree of confidence that Vajna will bring to the table the tough professionalism he has displayed in a career producing blockbusters such as “Rambo.”

“I am a little more optimistic now than I was,” says Gabor Kovacs of Budapest-based Film Partners, who is among those producers holding letters of intent from the MMKA. “I can feel that Vajna is really getting deeper into the subject; you can feel goodwill from him.”

Gabor Kalomista, head of Megafilm, one of the country’s largest production companies and head of the Hungarian producers association, says that change was long overdue in a system that had been characterized by cronyism.

“The old system was very confused and was not linked to results” he says.

Bulgarian filmmakers also are struggling after a parliamentary decision to alter the wording of a film-funding law brought hundreds of producers, directors and crew members out onto the streets of capital Sofia in protest late last year.

The change in funding regulations would slash the amount of money available for local producers, who are heavily reliant on state support.

After some high-profile heads rolled — including a deputy culture minister — industry reps had a sit-down meeting with prime minister Boyko Borissov at which they hammered out an ambitious plan that could see a levy introduced on movie tickets and commercial television to provide more public funding for filmmakers.

“If it works, it would be a ray of sunshine both to us in the film industry here, since we’d see an increased budget for filmmaking; and to the government, since filmmaking would no longer weigh heavily on the public purse,” one insider says.

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