Cannes 2012: Debut of 'The Notebook' Marks Hungary's Return to the Movie Business

Andy Vajna - 2007
MJ Kim/Getty Images

In the past year, Hollywood producer Andy Vajna has brought the Hungarian industry back from the brink.

CANNES – After years of turmoil, during which the film industry in Hungary collapsed under a mountain of unpaid debt and unmade films, Hungary is slowly returning to the movie business. At Cannes’ Marche du Film this year, Beta Cinema is selling Hungarian war drama The Notebook from Janos Szasz (Woyzeck).

The film, about two young brothers who grow up in a village on the Hungarian border during World War II, is the first Hungarian movie to hit the market that was made under the country’s new National Film Fund, set up by Budapest-born Hollywood producer Andy Vajna.

When the Hungarian government last year appointed Vajna to head up the new Film Fund, which replaced bankrupt funding body the MMKA, local filmmakers rose up against the producer of Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Die Hard With A Vengeance.

“It was a bit of a revolution,” Vanja said in an interview with THR in Cannes. “They all revolted against me. (Legendary Hungarian director) Bela Tarr condemned me and my plans. They said I was going to bring in my Hollywood ways and destroy the local cinema culture. But eventually, everyone came to their senses and realized I was the guy with the money.”

A year in, Vanja says he is now “working with everyone” and has the overall structure of the new fund in place. The fund’s budget, around $20 million a year, now comes directly from the Hungarian state lottery, insuring financing won’t be disrupted as it was under the MMKA, when the government pulled its support after the group piled up nearly $50 million in debt.

Vanja is also in Cannes beating the drum for Hungary as a location to shoot international movies. The new Die Hard film – A Good Day to Die Hard – the fifth feature in the action franchise, is currently shooting in Budapest and Vanja hopes to attract a couple of other big-name productions to the territory this year. The Hungarian Film Fund will set up a location office in Budapest later this year to better coordinate shooting permits and help visiting producers cut through local red tape. He said he also wants to simplify Hungary’s 20 percent tax incentive to make it a direct tax rebate. Currently visiting producers can only access the rebate by going through a third-party Hungarian company.

Vanja said he’s proud of all he’s accomplished so far – taking the Hungarian film industry from “a state of complete chaos” a year ago, to now, with four films greenlit by the new fund and plans to produce up to 10 a year. But Vanja said he has no plans to return to Hollywood just yet.

“The idea was always to build an organization that can function on its own without me but I’m sticking around for the next few years,” Vanja said. “When we get to where we want to go, then I can retire and get some sleep.”