Czech gov't near film funding deal

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KARLOVY VARY, Czech Republic -- Czech filmmakers and politicians on Thursday hammered out a stop-gap deal that promises $12 million a year of public funding for domestic productions while a long-awaited new film law winds its way through parliament.

Agreement on the deal came late Thursday as details were ironed out by Prime Minister Mirek Topolanek, Culture Minister Vaclav Jehlicka, audio visual industry body APA and the Czech film council, an ad-hoc filmmaker group that was established last year after an earlier film law was vetoed by Czech president Vaclav Klaus.

Coupled with a digital television law currently going through parliament and with backing from Topolanek, the proposal could become law as early as next month.

The new proposal, agreed upon at a meeting hosted by the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival -- whose president, Jiri Bartoska, is one of three spokesmen for the Czech film council -- will divert money from advertising carried on pubcaster Czech Television.

Three years ago, a law increased the license fee that funds the two-station pubcaster's budget and began a gradual reduction in the percentage of broadcasting time given over to advertisements.

Reduced from 1% in 2006 to half a% this year, commercials were supposed to disappear from Czech Television by the end of 2007.

The new film funding measure would freeze the advertising at half a% of broadcast time and divert one third of the cash -- worth 150 million Czech crowns ($7.1 million) a year -- to the existing state film fund.

The rest would go to a fund set up to help pay for the switch from analog to digital television in 2012.

The $5 million balance of the proposed annual budget for the state film fund would be made up by existing government funding sources, APA president Pavel Strnad said.

"This should provide stable funds until digitalization, by which time we should have a new law on cinematography that would take over where this left off," Strnad said.

Culture Minister Vaclav Jehlicka said he is confident the deal will get cross-party support in the country's delicately-balanced coalition parliament.

"There is no other possible way. Any other situation would be absurd as we all agree that public money should support cinematography," said Jehlicka, who added that he doubted President Klaus would veto the measure.

Last year, Klaus caused consternation among filmmakers when he vetoed a cinematography law that had been eight years in the making just as it was about to be approved by parliament. He said film was a business and did not deserve public money.

Jehlicka said the new measure will support Czech feature films, documentaries, animation, youth and educational productions. A new film law might also include the sort of tax incentives that are becoming more common in Central Europe, he added.

"As a minister of culture, I support the idea of tax incentives not only for the film industry but for other areas of culture, although this is very difficult to negotiate this with the other parties and the finance ministry," Jehlicka said.

Ivo Mathe, spokesman for the Czech film council, said that the new film funding measure should get parliamentary approval, as all the parties supported it in principle.

Lubomir Zaoralek, deputy chairman of the main opposition party, the Social Democrats, was at Thursday's meeting, according to Mathe, who added, "I am very confident that the measure will get across-the-board support."

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