Filmmakers in shock as funds cut

Melounek: 'We might have only five or six Czech films'

PRAGUE– If the mood was somber at this year’s Czech film producers’ holiday party, there was good reason. Filmmakers received a double blow with announcements from Czech TV and the Czech parliament that coin and film incentives have disappeared.

Ironically, the fund cuts arrive at the same time as the New Year’s launch of the Czech Film Commission, created to promote and aid film production in the Czech Republic.

Even though international and local film production spending here reached $300 million this year and provided 10,000 industry jobs, pleas by producers for the government to establish a film commission were ignored. This film commission was privately funded by the producers themselves — a situation unique to the Czech Republic.

It opens under the umbrella of the Czech Film Chamber, which also includes the Czech Film Center (which promotes Czech films abroad), the Media Desk and APA, the association of Czech audiovisual producers.

“State funding is the same volume as five years ago,” APA president Pavel Strnad tells Variety. “The promised additional funding didn’t materialize. And now there’s a new tax law on intellectual property that production investment has to be written off over six years. In the past it was one or two years. The faster you can write it off, the greater the incentive. This is an anti-incentive.”

While Strnad and his colleagues wondered how the Ministry of Culture could have let the new law slip through without informing them, pubcaster Czech TV had another surprise in store. A $20 million annual budget deficit inspired a temporary halt in co-production agreements. CTV had long touted its position as the leading film co-producer in the country, providing some 20% of all film investment, making it the first source of funding for many producers. Without that, EU co-funding money, private sponsorship and pre-sales to distributors are no-go.

The producers say it’s embarrassing that a country that produces 15-20 films annually, including a good proportion of internationally acclaimed films and local hits (30% of Czech box office went to domestic pics in 2003), is in last place for public film funding in Europe.

Others are beginning to take up the filmmakers’ cause. Michal Bregant, director of FAMU, the Prague film school and alma mater of many of Central Europe’s leading directors, wonders how he can turn out young directors who have no future. He plans to lobby EU decisionmakers for help.

Even film distributors, who fought an increase from ticket prices that would be earmarked for a Czech film fund, have changed their tune.

“Distributors are willing to accept an increase to 3% of ticket sales,” says Bonton’s Alex Danielis, “but we don’t want to be the only source.”

“It’s not only about employment. It’s our culture and our history,” says Warner Bros.’ Ladislav Stastny, “but distributors have to limit their financial investment.”

The one point everyone agrees on is that 2005 will be tough. “We might have only five or six Czech films,” Pavel Melounek of Whisconti says.

“It’s a big crisis,” says Petr Vachler, producer of the Czech Lion film awards. “If the state cannot help producers in Europe, we cannot make movies.”

Bregant adds, “Some Czech politicians say, ‘Well, there are only a few good films each year, so why make the others?’ Who’s going to be the decisionmaker?”

Czech producers are pondering their options. “I’m taking a one- to two-year break,” says Pro-Art’s Daniel Zavorka.

“I’m not giving up producing,” says Strnad, “but they might not be Czech films. It’s so bad, I’m considering moving my company to Slovakia. They have a 19% flat tax. The Czech Republic has a 32% corporate tax.”

The quick response finally may have shaken lawmakers. After years of begging and complaining by producers, parliament says it’s ready to propose a tax on commercial TV advertising to fund films. But even if that goes ahead in, possibly in March, it won’t be soon enough to help the anticipated production slump. As Danielis summed it up, “I’m afraid for 2005.”

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