Austrians in coin dispute

Rift forms between establishment and up-and-comers

LONDON — Something is rotten in the state of Austria. Just when Austrian pics such as Berlin Golden Bear winner “Grbavica,” Michael Haneke’s “Cache” or the Oscar-nominated docu co-prod “Darwin’s Nightmare” had everybody thinking Austria was the new Denmark — that is, a small country with a strong film culture — things are getting nasty among Austrian producers.

A rift has been forming between the more established producers — Helmut Grasser’s Allegro Film, Danny Krausz’s Dor Film, Veit Heiduschka’s Wega Film — and smaller, up-and-coming outfits such as “Grbavica” producer coop99, Amour Fou, Lotus and the shingles of helmers such as Nikolaus Geyrhalter and Uli Seidl.

During a recent meeting of the Austrian producers alliance, the other young guns laid a vote of no-confidence against org’s prexy, Allegro’s Grasser, who ankled his post and exited the alliance. He was followed by 10 of the org’s 13 board members, including Krausz and Heiduschka.

At the center of the dispute is the issue of who should receive how much subsidy coin.

“Over recent years, a lot of new producers have entered the scene, but the amount of money available has remained the same,” explains Austrian Film Institute topper Roland Teichmann.

International success

He adds: “We’re dealing with a generational conflict. The young generation received a lot of international attention very quickly, which has created a rivalry with the older guard who’d been successful at home but generally weren’t noticed that much in the international festival arena. And this rivalry has resulted in a conflict over the direction of public policy.”

The established producers argue that more public money should be given to films that serve the tastes of Austrian auds, which would help increase the market share of homegrown titles. Despite the current wave of festival successes, Austrian pics continue to have a minuscule market share of 2.2%.

“Of course they want more subsidies to go to commercial films, because those are the kind of films that most of them are making,” Geyrhalter says. “But internationally no one is interested in films that only concern themselves with Austrian audiences.”

Teichmann understands the concerns of both sides, but he’s frustrated by the situation. With an annual budget of E9.6 million ($11.7 million), the Austrian Film Institute is one of the main sources of coin for Austrian producers, and in his quest to increase the org’s funds, he finds the bickering among Austrian producers to be of little help.

“Given the little finance that’s available that’s available to Austrian filmmakers, we’re already doing incredibly well. Unfortunately, we currently don’t have enough financial momentum to really push for an increase in our local market share,” Teichmann says.