Macedonia woos foreign shoots

It plans incentives, following Croatia and Serbia

Macedonia is the latest Balkans country positioning itself as the ideal low-cost location with plans to introduce production incentives next year, after similar initiatives in Croatia and Serbia.

A working group set up by the small former-Yugoslav republic’s national film fund, administered by the culture and finance ministries, is looking at ways to attract more foreign production and service companies.

Darko Baseski, CEO of the Macedonian Film Fund, said the country already offered some of the best and cheapest locations in Europe.

“We have lakes, rivers, caves, even deserts within 60 km (37 miles) of (the cultural center of) Bitola in the Lake Ohrid area and some of the lowest personal tax rates in Europe,” Baseski said.

He added that for directors, d.p.s, editors, production designers and other key creatives a special income tax rate of just 5% applies.

Even with such low costs and average monthly salaries under $500, Baseski is urging the government to ring-fence funds for tax incentives to help package and promote Macedonia as a film-friendly country.

It is part of a longterm film industry development strategy that includes plans to build basic production facilities outside the capital, Skopje, with public money and then attract private investment for further facilities around that hub.

The incentive scheme, which is likely to be part of the government’s legislative program next year, comes at a time when Macedonian film is entering a new phase.

Just 52 films were shot in the country in the 17 years between post-communist independence in 1991 and 2008 when the film fund launched; in the four years since then a further 52 projects, including features, docs, shorts and toons have been made with fund backing.

Feature production until recently averaged just one a year; this year there were three Macedonian films in Official Selection at the Berlinale, including Panorama screener “The Woman Who Brushed Off Her Tears” by helmer Teona Mitevska, which is one of three features playing in the market in Cannes.

“To the Hill,” a romantic costume drama set in the dying days of the Ottoman empire as Macedonians fought for independence in the early 1900s, is shooting in the country.

The $3.5 million film, which began life as an English-language project backed by Croatian producer Branko Lustig, ended up as a wholly Macedonian venture after the government stepped in to add $2 million to a budget backed by the film fund and private investors.

“Our prime minister, Nikola Gruevski, is a big supporter of film in Macedonia and has intitated meetings with filmmakers to ask them how he can help,” Baseski said.

“The result is that reforms have begun this year, with public funding for production doubling to more than $5 million and support for free land with infrastructure for building a film studio that will be open to foreign investment.”

Macedonian post-production services are already taking on jobs for U.S. projects, with FX3X and Vertigo Visual among the most active, he said.

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