International profile: Once known for gypsies and Dracula, the country is working toward an economic rebound
The country is ready for its closeup with a bright new identity, after centuries of sending mixed signals to the world. The name conjured up images of Vlad the Impaler, Dracula and dictator Nicolae Ceausescu (who was executed in 1989) — negative images countered by classical Romanian composers such as George Enescu, mountain greenery, perky gymnasts and hard-nosed tennis players (a recent influx of female players might change that adjective to “graceful”). Over the past decade, the nation has made a push for a greater connection to showbiz, hosting such productions as “Cold Mountain,” “Hatfields & McCoys” and Terry Gilliam’s upcoming “The Zero Theorem.” Bucharest aspires to be the next Prague in attracting runaway productions, but so far lacks top tax incentives. As the economy grows, so does box office, which climbed 28% last year. Moreover, the country is growing a bumper crop of talented filmmakers, who are making an impact on the festival scene, which has tabbed them the Romanian New Wave. And digitally, as with most developing countries, the number of mobile phones far exceeds the population tally.
Bucharest’s main airport (named after Henri Coanda, the inventor of the world’s first jet engine) has flights from most major European cities (London is three hours away). The scenery is amazing, with mountain ranges and forests. But the bus system is erratic and half of the country’s roads are unpaved. According to Lonely Planet, you may encounter “strolling cows and sheep, slow-going horse carts filled with hay, bear-sized potholes, speed traps, unmarked curves, aggressive drivers.”
Only 55% of the population lives in urban areas. GDP per head is below 50% of the EU average. Internet usage grew by 8% in the past two years; 60% of users are students or have a university degree, and 18- to 24-year-olds make up 35% of those online. The dance, music and visual arts scenes are vibrant. According to Zeitgeist (Google’s annual report on the most popular Web searches in a country), animation company Creative Monkeyz (which produces the online toon “Robotzi”) was on top in terms of trends overall, though Zeitgeist didn’t provide numbers; in the music category, Corina’s single “A Ta” was the pace-setter .
Top pics in 2012: “Ice Age: Continental Drift” ($2.1 million), “Skyfall” ($1.7 million) and “The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 2″ ($1.5 million). Top local films: comedy “Sweet Little Lies” and Tudor Giurgiu’s “Of Snails and Men.” This year, the Calin Peter Netzer-directed “Child’s Pose” scored the best opening for a local pic in 20 years. Filmmakers have recently persuaded the government to remove the chief of the national film center and rethink film strategy — and consider giving more coin than the $10 million a year producers receive now. That could mean good news for local auteurs, who are already at home at festivals. “Child’s Pose” scored big in Berlin, and Cristian Mungiu’s “Beyond the Hills” nabbed two awards at the 2012 Cannes. Producer-director Tudor Giurgiu has his fingers crossed for Tudor Cristian Jurgiu’s “The Japanese Dog.” Giurgiu also runs one of the most enjoyable and biz-centric local film events, the Transylvania Film Festival.
Local studios like MediaPro and Castel Film are eager to lure foreign productions. Key assets: Beautiful scenery, well-trained crews and low costs; off setting those are the fact that the country doesn’t have competitive tax incentives. The local industry is pushing the government to introduce a tax break similar to the incentive of the Czech Republic, which covers up to 20% of production spend there. Meanwhile, local filmmakers regularly co-produce with French and other European partners, and can draw on Eurimages coin. The rise in box office has been in part driven by Israeli exhibitor Cinema City, which has transformed the market with plex construction: Its 14 sites attract more than half the country’s admissions. Others sites are planned in the underscreened territory. However, distribs of local pics are unhappy that they pay the same virtual print fees as for Hollywood films.
Romania’s cashstrapped pubcaster TVR pinkslipped 20% of its staff earlier this year, and shuttered two of its channels. Private webs are market leader Pro TV, which is part of the CME group, Antena 1 and Kanal D. Top shows are the local versions of global formats, such as “Romania’s Got Talent”; “Master Chef” and “The Voice.” The surprise hit was steamy Turkish costume soap “Suleiman the Magnificent.” The cable and DTT sector is becoming crowded with international networks like Sony’s AXN and Liberty’s Chello, running several channels each. The leading cable and DTH operator is IT entrepreneur Zoltan Teszari’s RCS&RDS, with 3 million subscribers. VOD service Voyo is growing quickly.
Romania at a Glance:
Size: 238,391 sq. km
Languages: Romanian 91%
Religion: Eastern Orthodox 86.8%
Population: 22 million
Aged 24 and under: 27%
Aged 25-54: 45.5%
Average age: 39
Based on median household income, it would take a Romanian 350 years to earn $1 million, compared with 20 years for an American.
Dracula, gymnast Nadia Comaneci, tennis player Ilie Nastase
Landline phones: 4.7 million
Cell phones: 24.5 million
Internet users: 8.6 million