It was the hottest summer on record in Greece, with temperatures regularly soaring past 100 degrees. And in recent months the local film industry has been just as sizzling, with Netflix’s “Knives Out 2” and David Cronenberg’s “Crimes of the Future” among a host of big-budget international productions flocking to the sun-soaked Mediterranean nation.
The game-changer for the Greek biz was the introduction of a cash rebate in 2018, which last year was raised to 40%, making it among the most attractive in Europe. But a panel of leading producers speaking at the Thessaloniki Film Festival on Sunday insisted that there’s more work to be done to ensure the industry continues its steady growth. “If we don’t face the challenges, we can’t get better. And we need to get better,” said Amanda Livanou of Neda Film.
In a country still struggling to emerge from the long shadow of a decade-long economic crisis, cash flow remains a monumental challenge for most Greek productions, a fact that producers fear will offset the success of the cash rebate program in attracting international productions to the country. “Film financing is a difficult situation anyway, and the Greek banks are not very receptive to this…as opposed to our French colleagues, our German colleagues, our Romanian colleagues,” said Livanou.
Konstantinos Kontovrakis of Heretic, which last year co-produced and line produced “Triangle of Sadness,” directed by Oscar nominee and Palme d’Or winner Ruben Östlund, noted that the Greek Film Center recently doubled the amount of funds available to minority co-producers, a move that will buttress the growing number of Greek co-productions.
But he described the level of bureaucracy hindering the industry as “unacceptable” and criticized the government for failing to ratify the European Convention on Cinematographic Co-Production, which was revised in 2017 to facilitate co-productions between European and non-European partners. “It’s much friendlier for smaller countries, so it needs to happen,” he said. “We’ve been asking for it. There’s no excuses anymore.”
A similar waiting game is bearing out with the cash rebate, which the panelists said suffers from a lengthy auditing process that’s out of step with industry norms, and which has been consistently slow to reimburse productions for costs incurred during shooting. “[The money] needs to be returned, and…we need to know when,” said Fenia Cossovitsa, of Blonde Audiovisual Productions, who is co-producing and line producing the Apple Plus TV series “Tehran.” “We’ve all heard stories around Europe about how bad things are with the cash rebate in Spain, or in Romania, and we don’t want that. We want this success to continue.”
Reached by Variety after Sunday’s panel, which was hosted by the Hellenic Producers Assn., the National Center of Audiovisual Media and Communication (EKOME), the government body tasked with administering the incentive scheme, said in a statement that such concerns are being addressed, pointing to legislation passed in August that “provides for significant improvements in the control and payment procedures, such as the provision of a deposit corresponding to at least 40% of the rebate within two months of activating the payment request and the creation of a register of audiovisual auditors.
“In both cases,” the statement continued, “the purpose is to repay the rebate in a short period of time from the time the producers submit the investment plan dossier to be audited, always taking into account the transparency and viability of the incentive.”
In spite of the challenges, the producers were clear-eyed about the success that the rebate program has brought the industry in the three years since its inception. “We are the living proof that these financial tools…are helping the whole ecosystem grow,” said Kostas Kefalas of Faliro House Productions, which serviced “Knives Out 2” and Maggie Gyllenhaal’s directorial debut “The Lost Daughter” (pictured). He added that the sheer number and scale of big-budget foreign productions coming to Greece is unlike anything the country has seen before.
A constructive, open dialogue between the industry and the government remains the key to allowing the Greek film business to grow and flourish. And everyone, the panelists agreed, needs to play a part.
“We need to be faster, we need to be more efficient – us, and the institutions,” said Livanou. “Because if we don’t work well, then the system doesn’t work well. If the institutions are not streamlined – from the [Central Archaeological Authority], to the rebate authority, to the banks, to the whole system – then nothing is going to get better.”