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The production shutdown prompted by the coronavirus pandemic last spring would have been reason enough to sound the alarm in Romania. But bigger trouble is brewing over the country’s rebate scheme, which has been imperiled by a bureaucratic logjam currently dragging into its second year.

After a bureaucratic reshuffle following a change in government in 2019, the cashback program has ground to a halt. According to the Romanian Alliance of Film Producers, the government owes €35 million ($42.4 million) to international productions that have lensed in the country since the rebate launched in 2018.

Of the two dozen foreign projects to shoot during that period, the only one to cash in on the rebate was Sony Pictures Television’s series “Alex Rider,” according to Iuliana Tarnovetchi, of Alien Film, which serviced the shoot.

“The fact that we don’t have a [functioning] cash rebate is not putting us in any [competitive] situation,” she says. “There are projects that might come to Romania because there is not enough room or crews in the countries around [Romania]. But those are based on luck. It’s not based on a strategy.”

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Romania offers a cash rebate of up to 45%, which has helped it to remain competitive in a region that includes production powerhouses such as Hungary and the Czech Republic. In recent years, the Eastern European nation has lured productions such as BBC America’s “Killing Eve,” Amazon Studios’ “The Romanoffs” and Corin Hardy’s “Conjuring” spin-off, “The Nun.”

Romania’s current government came into power in the waning days of 2019, and within a matter of months was forced to manage the coronavirus pandemic as it swept across the country. Though efforts to reach ministry sources before press time were unsuccessful, industry representatives say the administration has repeatedly offered assurances that the rebate will soon again be fully functional.

Castel Film Studios’ Bogdan Moncea, however, says that’s not enough, calling the government’s efforts a “total disappointment.” “There is a major lack of trust in the industry right now,” he says, adding that government inaction threatens hopes for a post-pandemic recovery. “We need investments. We need business. We need cash influx in the country.”

Last year Castel hosted “Around the World in 80 Days,” the David Tennant-starring adaptation of the Jules Verne classic co-produced by Slim Film + Television and Federation Entertainment, as well as “Borat Subsequent Moviefilm.” Canal Plus and Sky Studios are currently shooting the spaghetti Western TV series “Django” at the studio, while Moncea says two other productions are being prepped. “I think there’s a lot of interest, despite COVID,” he says.

David Minkowski of Stillking Films, which has a partnership with Bucharest-based Icon Films, says that “2021 will be a good year for Icon Stillking,” which is currently in production on “Flowers in the Attic: Origins,” an eight-hour series produced by A+E Studios, and is prepping another “very high-profile 8-hour series” for a global streaming platform. However, he adds, “It could have been a record year if it weren’t for the rebate fiasco.”

“The Romanian government opened one of the best rebate programs in the world, and then failed to pay anyone,” he says. “We have to remain hopeful they will live up to their promises, that someone in the government cares enough to see that the alternative is the death of a vibrant creative industry and loss of hundreds of millions of euros’ investment into Romania.”

INFO BOX

Romania offers a 35% cash rebate for feature and short films, documentaries, TV and web series, and animated projects, with a minimum spend of €100,000 ($121,000) and a €10 million ($12.1 million) cap per project. At least 20% of the budget must be spent in Romania. If the project explicitly promotes the country, the rebate rises to 45%.

For more info, contact the Romanian Film Center (contact@cnc.gov.ro).