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Fund faces cuts despite successes

Bals backed '4 Months' but loses govt. support

In 2007, the Hubert Bals Fund scored a huge hit: “4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days,” which had received coin from the fund, won the Palme d’Or at Cannes. But then came the news that government subsidy money for the fund, which supports helmers from developing countries, would be cut.

“Months” director Cristian Mungiu received an HBF grant to develop the project, making him one of the last Romanians to win support. The fund closed its doors to the country after it joined the EU.

“We were really proud,” fund manager Bianca Taal says.

But the fund’s main sponsor, the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, announced the HBF did not fit with its new subsidy system: After 2008, the money would dry up, depriving the fund of around 60% of its e1.2 million ($1.76 million) annual budget.

Since then the government has said it wants to continue supporting the fund, but Taal and her colleagues are still waiting for confirmation.

“We haven’t got a clear answer yet from the ministry on how this support will operate, on which terms and (under which) conditions. So this is still a bit unclear.” Alternative funding options are being explored, she adds.

Insiders say feelers have been sent out to private sources who patronize the arts or who operate active arts funding ops. “But we still have hope that the Dutch Ministry will have some more news soon about our future,” Taal says.

This year, 22 films in the fest have fund backing and all are eligible for the new, juried Dioraphte Award, that carries a E10,000 prize. The jury includes former Bals fund chief header Marianne Bhalotra; Amra Baksic Camo, program manager of Sarajevo’s Cinelink; and Malaysian helmer Ho Yuhang.

The fund, named after the founder of the Rotterdam fest, launched in 1988. The fest’s programmers act as emissaries for the fund and advise on project selection.

In both cases they are looking for artistic quality. “It’s something original, authentic or daring in a project which shines through,” Taal explains.

Support ranges from script and project development grants, worth up to e10,000, to post-production grants worth up to e30,000.

“We do take into account the urgency of a project, how much of a difference our support will make,” Taal says. “We always hope that it helps as a catalyst as well, to get other funds onboard.”

The Rotterdam festival can sometimes help directly by bringing HBF-supported projects to its CineMart in search of co-production coin (four have been selected for 2008). There is also a newer scheme, launched in 2006, to support Dutch co-producers who invest in HBF projects. The money, up to e50,000 per project, comes from the Dutch Film Fund, with the HBF acting as matchmaker and advisor.

Meanwhile, the Hubert Bals Fund is adapting to changes in the industry ushered in by digital technologies. “We noticed that, mainly in Southeast Asia, filmmakers would apply to us for a script development grant, and they would make a whole film with this money,” Taal says. “When we found this out, we thought that we should make a special category for these films.”

Digital production grants worth up to e20,000 were launched last March, and eight projects have been supported in the first two rounds, mainly from Southeast Asia but also from Central America and Central Asia.

The fund is also becoming more active at the boundaries of film and visual arts, for example supporting “The Journey of Crude Oil,” an installation at the 2008 fest by Chinese helmer Wang Bing.

“We notice that filmmakers we have followed for some years sometimes making this step,” Taal explains, “so in this sense we want to follow up with people we are already committed to.”