Commissioner Vajna defends coming changes

Hollywood producer Andrew Vajna, Hungary’s new film commissioner, sought to ease fears and reassure domestic and international filmmakers that his country’s beleaguered film industry would soon be back on its feet and said international co-productions were key to its future.

The government tapped Vajna to rebuild Hungary’s film funding system, which it says is bankrupt and some $25.5 million in debt.

Government plans for a radical overhaul have disrupted many Hungarian productions, and prominent filmmakers have been vocal in protesting the actions and blasting Vajna’s appointment as “a one-person decision-making system.”

Sunday at a film political roundtable at the Hungarian Institute in Berlin, Vajna asked industryites for patience and said, “I am not on the other side. I am only on one side. We have nothing against Hungarian movies. We are proud of them. But the system is bankrupt and we have to do something.”

Vajna said he wanted to reassure international co-producers who regularly work with Hungarian partners. He realized the country’s reputation may have been blemished by the crisis, he said, but he was working as fast as he could to review all current productions and past funding decisions in order to draft a proposal for the government on a new way forward within 60 to 90 days.

He added that international co-productions are the best way to reinvigorate the Hungarian industry and help it re-establish itself.

While remaining polite and pleasant, other film funding officials on the panel stressed the importance of maintaining a strict separation between the government and public film funding.

Henrik Bo Nielsen, CEO of the Danish Film Institute, noted that his own term is limited to five years and that he was elected by a board, not the government.

Likewise, Peter Zawrel, president of the Vienna Film Fund, said his org’s funding jury is made up solely of foreigners — including Hollywood producer Eric Pleskow, to ensure impartiality.

Hrvoje Hribar, head of Croatia’s Audiovisual Center, said “audiovisual policy must remain above politics.”

Simon Perry, chief exec of the Irish Film Board, talked of the immense impact local cinema can have on a country’s international image and the positive effect that can have on tourism. Cultural exports such as film and music can generate tremendous yet incalculable “invisible earnings” by providing a vibrant and attractive image of the country, he said.

“We’ve gotten the Irish government to understand this. We may not be able to measure it, but we know it’s true.”

The need to resolve funding issues in Hungary was a pressing one, Perry added. Irish-Hungarian co-production “The Other Side of Sleep” which is in post-production in Budapest, was stuck in the laboratory because co-producer Ferenc Pusztai had not received money pledged by troubled funding body the Hungarian Motion Picture Public Foundation.

The film is one of many suffering because of the financial crisis at the body.

Vajna pleaded for help and patience from the Hungarian film industry during the restructuring.

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