Hungarian film industry looks abroad

International co-production hope for future of sector

MOSCOW -- While Hungarian television no longer provides funding for theatrical features, co-producing with other countries is set to be a promising area, according to producers presenting their films at the 41st Hungarian Film Week, which came to a close in Budapest on Feb. 8.

The near bankruptcy of the Hungarian television sector came as a blow to film producers depending on cash from TV, but many saw it coming a while ago.

"It didn't happen all of a sudden," says Jozsef Berger, producer at Mythberg Films, who presented the feature "The Camera Murderer," adding that country's TV sector has been moving towards focusing more on television products rather than films intended for theatrical release, anyway.

"There was a big effort form the Motion Pictures Public Foundation of Hungary (MMKA) to establish long-time cooperation with television, and MMKA was even giving money for television films," Berger said. "But it didn't work out as the Hungarian television ran out of any resources. We don't expect that it will come back in the near future."

Laszlo Kantor, a producer at UJ Budapest Filmstudio, who presented "Out/In-Tawaret," agreed that within the next couple of years the return of Hungarian TV finance to the movie industry is unlikely, but it could be possible in the longer term, if a new media law obliging TV channels to invest in film were adopted. "It won't be the first priority of the new government [to take office later this year] but, hopefully, within two or three years we'll try to change it," he said.

Meanwhile, in the present situation, apart from state support, on which the local film industry heavily depends, co-producing with other countries is an important source of funding, producers say. "In my opinion, co-productions are the most possible way for the Hungarian film industry to survive in this situation," Berger said, adding that even minority participation in co-production is vital for the country's film industry to stay on track.

According to Berger, co-productions with German-speaking countries and Poland have been most successful to date but he added that bigger productions, involving several European countries, such as the English-language film "The Essence of Killing" by Jerzy Skolimowski, co-produced by Norway, Ireland, Poland and Hungary, are also a promising area.

"Co-productions is the future of the Hungarian film industry," Kantor said. "Without co-production, we can't make films these days, it's almost impossible."

"I believe in European co-productions," agreed Ferenc Pusztai, a producer with KMH Film, who presented "Czukor Show" and "Team Building" and was honored as best producer. "I'm pretty sure that this is our future," he said, adding that fully funding a feature from only local sources is problematic.

Meanwhile, finding co-production partners outside Europe remains a big challenge for Hungarian producers. Establishing co-productions with Asia and other parts of the world is difficult primarily because of cultural differences, Kantor said.

Still, there are other options that need to be explored, including cooperation with independent U.S. producers. "We have to investigate that possibility," Berger said. "I don't know if any American independent companies ever thought about co-producing with Hungary."

At the same time, providing servicing to foreign film crews shooting in Hungary is another potential source for funding domestic film production.

"The last year was very good. We made a lot of productions of different kinds -- European, American, Asian," Tamas Tolmar, general director of the state-run service company Mafilm, told THR. "This year is not going to be that good."

He explained that because the Hungarian parliament didn't confirm the tax-incentive scheme for 2010 in time, some foreign producers pulled out, and although now the scheme is confirmed, some business could have gone elsewhere. "The Americans and Europeans heard about that and they went home," Tolmar said. "But they will now be back."

One issue that used to be an obstacle in the way of attracting more foreign crews to shoot in Hungary, the insufficient number of qualified English-speaking crew members, is being resolved. Mafilm's sales director Gabor Boszormenyi said that previously, Hollywood companies shooting in Hungary, had to bring a lot of crew from the U.S., and in order to provide foreign crews with local personnel, Mafilm has launched training programs for crew members. "It's very important to speak English, to know the modern language of filmmaking," Tolmar added.

However, in attracting foreign film crews, Hungary has to face competition from neighboring countries. "Romania is cheaper but the infrastructure is much better here," said Boszormenyi, adding that the Czech Republic is more similar to Hungary, as far as the service industry is concerned. "It's a big competition these days, as the Czech Republic has a tax incentive system as well as Austria," Berger said.

Meanwhile, at a ceremony that took place on the night of Feb. 8, the 41st Hungarian Film Week's prizes were awarded. The Main Prize Golden Reel went to "Bibliotheque Pascal" by Szabolcs Hajdu, and "Kolorado Kid" by Andras Vagvolgyi picked up the best genre film prize. Zsombor Dyga and Robert Pejo shared the best director award for "Question In Detail" and "The Camera Murderer," respectively.

Andras Nagy collected the best cinematographer's award for his work on "Bibliotheque Pascal," and Reka Almasi, the director of "Team Building," was named best first feature director. The Gene Moskowitz Prize awarded by foreign critics went to "Bibliotheque Pascal."
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