Csaba Káel, head of Hungary’s National Film Institute (NFI), hopes to emulate an 18th century Magyar hussar hero at this year’s Berlinale European Film Market. Swashbuckling Count Andras Hadik occupied Berlin for one day in 1757 — in return for 300,000 silver thalers, left without destroying the city.
Hadik’s adventure is the subject of one of the films the NFI will be marketing at the EFM. Káel plans to spend more than a day in Berlin, but also hopes Hungarian producers will leave with handsome sales ledgers after the market — without having to raise a ransom, like the handsome hussar.
It is the first EFM for the NFI, since it was established in 2020, just as the pandemic hit, closing down the Berlinale’s market until this year.
Káel — an award-winning director who has worked with famous cinematographers, including the late Vilmos Zsigmond — was appointed Hungarian government film commissioner following the death in 2019 of Andy Vajna, the Budapest-born Hollywood producer who shook up film funding as head of the Hungarian National Film Fund. The NFI has a wider brief than Vajna’s model, which focused on funding features.
“In recent years a lot of things have changed — streaming channels emerged, and new kinds of ways of producing movies, such as miniseries with high production values, have appeared,” Káel says. Although Hungarian television production was supported with subsidies channeled through other structures, the relaunched NFI now provides subsidies for both cinematic features (including documentaries and animation) of around $28.5 million a year, and television productions, totaling $19 million. The money covers grants for development, pre-production, production, marketing and distribution.
The cash enables the NFI to support around 20 features a year, and up to 200 television productions, including series, shorts, documentaries and cartoons.
Káel says the NFI is “preparing our attack for more than one day at the EFM” — with spearheads on three fronts, including selling a raft of movies, promoting Hungarian locations and co-productions and highlighting Budapest as a services powerhouse that is second only to London as a European production hub.
“We have very special knowledge here in Hungary — the biggest international productions are shooting here.”
Last year, incoming productions brought $690 million of business to Hungary, drawn by the services available and a generous tax incentive that can add up to more than 30% if all factors are included.
Promoting co-productions between Hungary and other countries is also high on the NFI’s agenda.
“It is important to take a new approach to distribution too,” he says, adding that co-productions can be a way to widen sales possibilities and showcase “our European lifestyle.”
He adds: “Distribution, distribution, distribution — that is our future. We can make better and more interesting movies if we have the income. And income comes from distribution.”
The slate of films on offer at the EFM include features that are in official selection, what Káel calls the “past, present, and future” of Hungarian cinema. Berlinale Classics unspools György Fehér’s 1989 child serial killer thriller, “Twilight” (Szürkület), while animated climate sci-fi feature (a co-production with Slovakia), “White Plastic Sky,” is in the Encounters section and student film “Szemem Sarka” (which means “from my special point of view”) is in Gen- eration 14 Plus.
Films at the market include the animated, English-language “Four Souls of Coyote”; medieval costume drama, “Fairyland — Age of Temptations”; emotionally charge adoption drama “Six Weeks”; and “Hadik,” the story of the 18th century hussar.
Réka Temple, executive producer at Cinemon, the studio behind “Four Souls of Coyote,” paid tribute to the NFI’s wider brief: “Hungary has a strong tradition in animation. Hungarian studios have long been service providers to big animation companies and movies. For the past couple of years, fortunately, the NFI has supported local directors and studios in developing feature length production.”
For “Coyote’s” director, Aron Gauder, the story of Native Americans protecting their lands from an oil pipeline was personal, she adds. “He has been passionate about the Native American culture from childhood. ‘Four Souls of Coyote’ is a more modest creation myth, where humans are not at the top of the food chain — reminding us of the challenges facing humanity today.”
Native American experts from the Navajo and Cheyenne-Arapaho tribes had been consulted in the making of the film, she notes. Judit Romwalter, producer of “Six Weeks” and head of Sparks, one of Hungary’s camera and lighting companies, credits the NFI with creating “a safe environment for productions, as well as local, to continue their work during the challenging period of the pandemic.”
She adds: “Hungary has always been attractive to foreigners … the NFI pays a lot of attention to supporting international co-productions, which can bring films to an even wider audience.”
With a strong, talented technical and creative community in Hungary, filmmakers were “able to find and process topics that are interesting beyond the country’s border. ‘Six Weeks’ was made on a relatively small budget, with a new creative team under director Noémi Veronika Szakonyi, but because it presents a theme and artistic content that makes it stand out, it is also attractive to international festivals, for example, winning the Just Film Grand Prize for youth film at the 26th Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in 2022,” Romwalter says.
Adam Goodman, co-founder of services company Mid-Atlantic Films, which is currently working on “Dune 2,” says the interplay between the international services sector and the domestic production sphere gives Hungary a distinct advantage over other European locations.
“Filmmakers come to Hungary not just because of an effective 37.5% rebate but because it now has a sophisticated range of skill sets, infrastructure and studios. We have terrific facilities and locations. Package that all together and there are very few places in the world that can beat that on a level playing field.”