New Hungarian National Film Fund clears debts

The revolution in Hungarian film funding is beginning to bear fruit, according to the country’s state film topper, Hollywood producer Andrew Vajna.

The Budapest-born industryite was appointed last year by prime minister Viktor Orban’s right of center government following the collapse of debt-laden film funding body Hungarian Motion Picture Public Foundation (MMKA).

Sunday in Berlin, he claimed that he had ended corruption in the distribution of taxpayer coin for production support.

Vajna told a packed panel at Berlin’s Hungarian Cultural Center that “the film business in Hungary had been used to dividing the (public) money among themselves…we’ve put a stop to that.”

Fears that Vajna, with his Hollywood background — his credits include blockbusters “Rambo” and “Total Recall” — would favor commercial projects for funding over arthouse fare have not materialized: The four features greenlit for public coin this year are all from established arthouse names.

And Vajna’s new Hungarian National Film Fund made good on a promise to clear €15 million ($19.8 million) of debts and obligations owed to producers who had been left sitting on worthless letters of intent for movies and co-productions backed by the previous government or saddled with huge bank loans following the collapse of MMKA in 2010.

Anxiety over the future of Hungary’s generous 20% tax rebate for international and domestic productions has abated, as Vajna has secured annual funding for his new org via one of Hungary’s big three national lotteries. The government has also been won over by the economic value of incoming foreign production, Vajna told Variety.

“Last year, €30 million ($39.6 million) in tax rebates were paid out for movie production, meaning that some €150 million ($198 million) entered the Hungarian economy from the film industry.”

He is meeting with Gjorgy Matolcsy, the finance minister, today to press the case for maintaining the priority given to the rebate scheme.

Vajna’s position remains controversial with some filmmakers, including director Bela Tarr, who’s opposed to him and the new system of film finance.

But others are willing to give a filmmaker with proven Hollywood chops a chance.

Viktoria Petranyi, who has produced films by arthouse director Kornel Mundruczo, told Sunday’s panel that keeping communication open is the way to “build trust” between filmmakers and the new funding gatekeeper.

Others, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Variety that complaints about Vajna are empty given the depth of corruption and cronyism that was an open secret in the Hungarian film world under the old system.

Zoltan Kovacs, Hungary’s state communication secretary told Variety that Vajna’s clean sweep is long overdue. “The government has been overseeing a major reboot of the entire system — putting a clear cap on public expenditure. The reboot of the Hungarian film funding system reflects that.”

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