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Tax fund outlook brightens

Van der Laan pushes film tax break through, but NPS to get axed

AMSTERDAM — When it comes to media, at times it might seem the Dutch government is giving with one hand and taking away with the other.

Dutch producers and directors are gearing up to churn out a fresh lineup of pics after the Dutch culture and finance ministries finally greenlighted a new version of its tax break scheme, this one to kick off in January of 2006.

Controversial Dutch Secretary of State for Media and Culture Medy van der Laan has drawn the ire of the entertainment community over the last 18 months with some very unpopular media reform proposals. But this time, she is being given kudos from the film industry for having pushed the tax break through.

“She’s done a good job with this,” says Hugo Klaassen, interim managing director of Fine, a company that puts producers and film financiers together.

Carolien Croon, director of the Netherlands Assn. of Feature Film Producers adds that the 2006 tax break is less complicated and will make it easier to coproduce with other countries, although not easier for foreign producers to get in on the scheme. It still requires that 50% of all production costs be spent in Holland.

But if Van der Laan is getting high marks from filmers, she is being raked over the coals by public broadcasters, particularly NPS. A major supporter of multi-cultural film, documentaries and other programming, not only in Holland but across Europe, NPS has been told it will get the axe in 2008.

“We plan on fighting this on the floor of parliament in September,” says NPS spokesman Arthur Schuitmaker. Hearings will be held in parliament Sept. 12, but the decision against NPS is being labeled a “political deal” conjured and agreed to by the coalition government to save programs that had nothing to do with media. “NPS was the sacrifice,” says one media veteran.

Founded by the government a decade ago specifically to support, acquire and co-produce multicultural programming, NPS is among other things an important supporter of the Intl. Film Festival Rotterdam’s Hubert Bals Fund. That fund is a significant plank for bringing non-Western films to fruition.

Van der Laan has been on a crusade to reorganize the pubcasters and strip them of so-called entertainment programming, which she says can be delivered by the commercial sector. She wants pubcasters to stick to news, information and cultural programming.

NPS confesses it was “amazed” to find itself under Van der Laan’s microscope. “Our brief has always been cultural. We are one of the major sources of dance, opera and ballet programming in the country,” Schuitmaker says.

While NPS is decrying its bad luck, back in the film sector, prolific Dutch film producer-director Johan Nijenhuis calls the tax break decision good news. His outfit, NL Prods., has churned out several films, including the 2004 pic “Floris” under earlier tax schemes, and is now gearing up a couple of romantic comedies and a pic, “1953: The Storm,” about the flood that killed 1,800 people in the south of Holland half a century ago.

“The ‘1953’ script is ready but, because it is a period film with big special effects, it can only be financed with the tax break,” Nijenhuis says.

Some 50 films were churned out between 2000 and 2003 in the tax break heyday, but bureaucratic and political complications have slowed the program to a near halt. No films have been made under it so far this year.

Although this time around, filmers are being promised by parliament that some form of the tax break will stay in place, there is still insecurity it could fall by the wayside.

As for jittery public broadcasters, likely headed for a major downsizing in 2008, there are clearly no guarantees.

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