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Belgian bank shutters film fund

Decision to close part of 'back to basics' strategy

BRUSSELS — Belgian bank ING has closed the film finance fund that it operated under the country’s tax shelter system.

This leaves just one bank, Fortis, active in the market.

Over two years, the ING fund put an estimated x30 million ($42 million) into nearly 60 films including “Lorna’s Silence” by the Dardenne brothers, the Jean-Claude Van Damme vehicle “JCVD” and Irish toon “Brendan and the Secret of Kells.”

Decision to close is part of a “back to basics” strategy, the bank said, with film finance seen as outside its core business. All commitments will be honored, however.

Fund topper Francoise Platteborse ankles to pursue other interests.

The shelter gives Belgian companies a tax break if they invest in European films with a local co-producer or some other types of audiovisual production. Investment can be made directly or through intermediaries who matchmake, handle the administration and take a cut for their trouble.

ING was the first bank to enter the intermediary market, in 2007, bringing stability to the system as well as new investors.

It was followed by Fortis, which remains active under new parent BNP Paribas. “We have no plans to change in a negative way,” that fund’s topper, Alex Verbaere, told Variety. “We are currently discussing how in future we can reinforce our activities in this area.”

A third bank, Dexia, announced a tax shelter scheme in May 2008 at Cannes, but plans were since put on hold.

ING’s offer was popular with producers. Commission was low, and it was initially open to any project that met the legal requirements of the tax shelter, with no assessment of artistic merit or box office potential. Demand was so high that in 2008 the bank had to introduce additional selection criteria.

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