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Hungary passes new film law

Legislation is designed to boost local production, attendance

BUDAPEST — On Nov. 21, Hungarian lawmakers passed amendments to the country’s film law, which industry insiders and analysts are touting as a game-changer that stands to reform and possibly reinvigorate the nation’s struggling domestic cinema.

Among other reforms, the legislation has secured a new source for public funding of films, improved oversight of how these funds will be spent, and streamlined the process for getting financial support to filmmakers.

For producer Andy Vajna, who made his bones in Hollywood with such films as “Rambo” and “Total Recall” and the law’s chief architect, these reforms, which represent more than almost a year of reorganization and wrangling, are a new beginning.

“It’s been a long hard nine months,” says Hungarian-born Vajna, appointed by Prime Minister Viktor Orban to oversee the legislative reform process, “and finally we have reached our goals. We have a film law, and a financial source for motion picture support.”

That financial source is 80% of the tax revenue earned by the national lottery in Hungary. It is estimated the lottery will generate about $10 million in 2012, which officials say will be enough to help finance up to eight domestic feature films, one animated film and one documentary over the next year,

The new law simplifies the funding process by centering decision-making for state funding on a single office: the Hungarian National Film Fund, which — underscoring the industry’s new focus as a commercial asset — is overseen by the National Development Ministry, not the National Resource Ministry that currently supervises cultural affairs.

According to Vajna, the new law brings discipline, clarity and efficiency to the industry.

“I want (the funding process) to be a see-through concept,” Vajna says. “I want the whole funding system to be transparent. We want to oversee the projects and make sure they are developing properly.”

In 2010, Hungary’s film financing process came under scrutiny when prominent local producer Gabor P. Koltai was accused of misappropriating public funds and defrauding the state financing system. The new law includes checks to safeguard against similar abuses and to lend professional support to the industry.

“We will be assisting (filmmakers),” Vajna says. “If you are in trouble we want to help. So we will not just be giving money away, we will be assisting and following up, making sure that money is being spent for what it was meant for. Above all, we will be seriously involved in approving the screenplays because that’s where it all begins.”

The ultimate goal appears to be winning back the business of the Hungarian audience. According to authorities, in 2010 the market share of Hungarian cinema was only 4%.

Vajna hopes that under the new system local filmmakers will be able to reconnect with Hungarians. “Right now, you have a situation where Hungarian films are not able to attract its own moviegoers,” he said. “We have to do something to entice these people to come back.”