Cannes 2012: Eastern Europe Rebounds As Productions Thrive
Thanks to incentives and government support, the once-troubled region's film industry adjusts to a market-driven economy.
The film industries in Central and Eastern Europe have undergone a dramatic transformation over the past 20 years.
Emerging from the shadows of the Communist era, they have had to learn to operate under new, market-oriented conditions. The region’s film industries are still heavily dependent upon cash from the public sector, but producers have learned to make films that appeal to local audiences, bringing them movies that speak to them in a way that mainstream Hollywood cinema doesn’t.
Not that Hollywood hasn’t contributed to the local economies. The Central and Eastern European countries have also emerged as attractive shooting destinations for foreign productions, thanks to incentives that bring down budgets, lower production costs and a wealth of attractive locations.
Over the past few years, the New Romanian Wave has washed over the international festival circuit: In 2007, Cristian Mungiu’s 4 Months, 3 Weeks and 2 Days captured the Palm d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, and this year the director returns to the Competition with Dupa dealuri (Beyond the Hills). While Romanian-made films have begun to attract international attention, the country’s local industry depends heavily on public-sector cash. The main film funding body is the National Film Centre (CNC), which provided funding for more than 90 feature-length films between 2003 and 2010.
At the same time, Romanian film facilities and locations have been attracting productions from outside the country. According to Cristian Hordila, European Film Promotion’s representative for Romania, the country’s “beautiful locations, low-cost budgets and high standard equipment and personnel are some of the main reasons” that productions as different as the micro-budgeted horror movie The Devil Inside to the upcoming action pic The Expendables 2 to the very American TV series Hatfields & McCoys, starring Kevin Costner, have all headed to Romania.
In the Czech Republic, the main development during the last two years was the introduction of a new tax incentive program, which went into effect in June, 2010. It has already changed the film industry’s landscape, once again turning the country into one of the most attractive shooting places in Europe, a status the Czech Republic last enjoyed back in the 1990s.
“Demand has increased many times,” Ludmila Claussova, director of the Czech Film Commission, told The Hollywood Reporter. This year, productions have applied for more than three times the 300 million Czech Korunas ($15.8 million) that have been set aside as an annual disbursement under the scheme. According to Claussova, because of the heightened interest from producers, there are hopes that the country will increase the annual figure available. Among the films that took advantage of the incentives are Nicolaj Arcel’s costume drama A Royal Affair (En kongelig affære), starring Alicia Vikander as the wife of mad King Christian VII who has an affair with the court physician, played by Mads Mikkelsen, which Lars von Trier executive produced through his Zentropa production company. But “the incentive isn’t everyting,” Claussova adds. “They come back because of the quality.”
Last year, the country’s film industry saw a major change in film funding, which came as part of an overall industry revamp led by newly appointed government commissioner Andrew G. Vajna. The most significant event was the establishment of the Hungarian National Film Fund (MNF), which began operating in October, 2011. The 2012 budget of MNF, which uses revenue from the Nr.6 national lottery, is estimated at about $25 million, the fund’s spokesman told The Hollywood Reporter. Through the end of April, the fund provided production funding to four European co-productions and development funding to about 30 more projects.
Among the highest profile movies funded through the new scheme is the Hungarian/German/French/Austrian co-production The Notebook, directed by János Szász, who helmed 1994’s Woyzeck. While international productions shooting in Hungary weren’t affected by the latest changes in the country’s film industry, they continue to be attracted to the nation’s 20 percent tax incentive scheme. Among the most recent examples is A Good Day to Die Hard, starring Bruce Willis, the fifth installment in the Die Hard franchise from 20th Century Fox.