Iceland: Volcano hasn't hurt film industry

Other film commissioners also upbeat at trade show

The mood at the Santa Monica Convention Center, scene of the 25th Association of Film Commissioners International trade show during the weekend, was upbeat even though a couple of natural disasters had some commissions on the defensive. The recession and its cutbacks have forced others to downsize.

Still, there were some who were jubilant after posting banner years -- they were displaying the banners to show for it -- as they looked for more good times.

California saw filming return to the state thanks to its tax credit, with the Tom Hanks dramedy "Larry Crowne" and Disney's "You Again" staying here expressly because of it. The state had a strong and unified presence at the show, something it learned from Canada, which in years past took up an entire row of the exhibit floor to make an impact.

This year, cuts in funding from the feds, among others, fractured Canada's presence. Still, that didn't stop the provinces from aggressively touting strong points like British Columbia's upped incentives (a 33% labor credit, a 17.5% animation and visual effect credit, and a new video game credit).

While Serbia's commission was riding high on an incentive package expected to be unveiled as early as this week, neighbor Hungary showed that it's not just about rebates: It showed off schematics of Raleigh Studios' soon-to-open Budapest facility.

Among the convention's highlights:


ICELAND

Iceland, already hard hit by a banking crisis, suffered another blow when its Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted just days before the trade show, spewing a giant cloud of ash over Europe.

"Your volcano is keeping our DVDs from getting to the Cannes office!" one woman bellowed to two Icelandic commissioners, who already were in the middle of explaining the eruption to an attendee.

"It's a natural disaster; there's nothing you can do," says Hlyner Gudjonsson, shrugging. "It's a once-in-200-years event."

Gudjonsson and film commissioner Einar Tomasson said that despite the eruption, which was far from heavily populated areas and posed no risk to filming, Iceland's movie industry is thriving. The country's office of animation and post-hour Framestore has grown to about 20 employees, and a new facility, Atlantic Studios, has opened on a former Navy base.

On top of the 20% incentive Iceland offers, its devalued currency can prove a boon: The krona was valued at 62 to $1 when Clint Eastwood filmed "Flags of Our Fathers" in the county; now, it's 126 krona to $1.

"That's the real incentive," Gudjonsson said.


CHILE

Film representatives from Chile, which was hit by a devastating earthquake in February, were on hand to tell attendees that things were returning to normal and filming was fine.

"There was an area that people lost homes but are now rebuilding," says Patricio Parraguez the Chilean Trade Commission. "But as far as services, everything is working: water, phones, electricity. To make the point even further, the Metro in Santiago is running smoothly."

Chile's reps were handing out "postquake update" news releases made for the trade show stating that "crew and camera equipment is more than ready to roll." That appears to be true, as the quake hit an area not known for film-friendly vistas.

Although only now gaining attention for international feature productions, the country is a desired locale for commercials, with the country's mix of deserts, glaciers and wine valleys attracting producers from Europe and Canada.

Reps said three commercials have been shot in the country since the earthquake, and more are on the way as the industry strives to become a competitor to South Africa.


HAWAII

With ABC's "Lost," based in Oahu, ending its TV run, there were fears in Hawaii that dollars brought in by that production would plummet. It didn't help that state-budget cutback saw layoffs in its film office. But an influx of features has allayed concerns, with officials saying that more than $200 million could be brought in this year.

Alexander Payne's George Clooney starrer "The Descendants" is shooting, with Universal's "Battleship" and parts of Disney's fourth "Pirates of the Caribbean" set to come later in the year. Two potential series include "Hawaii Five-O" and "The Event."

Georja Skinner of Hawaii's economic development and tourism office credits "Lost" for having "proven that Hawaii can be more than just beautiful jungles." She says the show helped establish a deeper crew base and set up an extensive internship program with schools and universities.

" 'Lost' put us in another realm," Skinner says.


JORDAN

Having your country mentioned as a great place for moviemaking live in front of millions can do wonders. Just ask Jordan, which is coming off an awards season where the Jordan-shot Iraq War thriller "The Hurt Locker" won the best picture Oscar. The country has fielded many inquiries and seen a rise in scouting trips since then.

"Jordan is tried and tested now," says George David of Jordan's Royal Film Commission. "Locker" showed that the country's film infrastructure is up to snuff, and "safety isn't a concern as much as before," he adds.

As if to prove the point, the country's commission received another piece of good news during the conference: Aloe Entertainment's Bible drama "Mary Mother of Christ," starring Jonathan Rhys-Meyers and Al Pacino, which was to shoot in Morocco, now will lense in Jordan.
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