UCI Kinowelt protests ruling

BERLIN — The legal wrangling over Germany’s new film funding law has heated up after exhib UCI Kinowelt appealed a ruling by a German federal court, in its two-year battle against mandatory levies, to the Federal Constitutional Court, the nation’s highest hall of justice.

A ruling by a federal court in Leipzig earlier this year paved the way for revamped film funding legislation, but the changes fell short of what UCI — part of leading European exhib giant Odeon & UCI Cinemas Group — had wanted.

The appeal came as no surprise. For the last two years, UCI has been protesting the way the German Film Board (FFA), the country’s biggest film body, is financed.

A major sticking point in the dispute is the profitability, or rather lack thereof, of a majority of local productions that are financed through the FFA, which boasts an annual budget of nearly $110 million.

UCI argues that the levies should be directly linked to performance, and that they should provide a clear benefit to all of the film board’s sponsors, which include home entertainment distribs and the country’s public and commercial TV broadcasters.

Exhibs have argued that they do not benefit from “artistic films” that are unprofitable. UCI attorney Eckhard von Voigt argued previously that 25% of FFA-funded films don’t even make it into theatrical distribution, and 70% reach fewer than 50,000 viewers.

UCI Kinowelt managing director Ralf Schilling says that money should not be granted for films that do not have the slightest chance at the box office. He maintains that his company’s appeal is not about completely dismantling the joint funding system, but rather about “fair burden-sharing and an economically sound use of resources.”

UCI is aiming for a reduction in exhib film levies as well as a modernization and restructuring of Germany’s film-funding apparatus, including downsizing the board’s various committees. Schilling would like to see a grants commission staffed only by reps of those who contribute financially to the org.

Whether the Constitutional Court agrees to hear the appeal remains to be seen, and if it does, UCI may be going at it alone: In March, German exhib association HDF Kino advised its members not to pursue further litigation but rather to resume their contributions to the FFA.

International productions regularly benefit from FFA funding, including such pics as David Cronenberg’s “A Dangerous Method,” Roland Emmerich’s “Anonymous” and Paul W.S. Anderson’s “The Three Musketeers,” all of which shot in Germany.

In 2009, the leading exhibs began a joint campaign against the mandatory levies. Charged between 1.8% and 2.3% of their annual box office revenue, theater owners pay more than $29 million a year to the FFA.

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