Croatian Film Center Head Resigns Under Political Pressure, Says Production Incentives Are at Risk
Hrvoje Hribar quits following a critical audit report about the body that administers the tax rebate system in the country, which has attracted such high-profile productions as 'Game of Thrones.'
Production incentives could be under threat in Croatia after Hrvoje Hribar, the head of national audio-visual center HAVC, resigned following a highly critical State Audit Office report, he said.
Hribar said this week that he was stepping down as head of HAVC after facing political pressure over an audit report that alleges financial misconduct by the public film body. HAVC promotes Croatia as a movie location and runs the country's multimillion dollar 20 percent tax rebate scheme, which has helped attract top international film and TV projects, including HBO's Game of Thrones.
Those incentives could now be at risk, Hribar told The Hollywood Reporter. "There has been no reaction from the government to these events, which is threatening," he said. "And there is no money left in the state budget for 2017 as far as incentives are concerned."
Government officials weren't immediately available for comment.
The audit was the culmination of over a year of pressure on HAVC that began under the watch of right-wing minister of culture Zlatko Hasanbegovic, who was in office between February and October of last year, Hribar said.
During that time, there were delays in paying out rebates owed to domestic and foreign producers that had shot films in Croatia. Total eligible production spending, on which the 20 percent rebate is calculated, fell from $25 million in 2015 to less than $9 million last year.
Hribar says the attacks on the center began after vilification by right-wing politicians in Croatia of a decision to fund a controversial 2015 Danish documentary about war crimes committed during the Yugoslav civil war, 15 Minutes – The Dvor Massacre, directed by Georg Larsen and Kasper Vedsmand.
"It was a trigger for right-wing demands to dismantle an institution they claimed was not funding enough patriotic films," Hribar argued.
The special audit was ordered and alleged discrepancies were found in financial management, focusing on a rule stipulating that any spending over 200,000 Croatian Kuna, or $28,600, had to be signed off by the Minister of Culture. In practice, Hribar said, those rules had only ever applied to office spending, not operational spending that involved paying out tax rebates to producers of eligible film and TV projects.
"We were blamed for operating the system that had always [been used] at HAVC and that had passed countless independent audits. The law is on our side," Hribar said, adding that under the political and media pressure in the wake of the critical audit office report, as a public servant he had had no choice but to resign. "I fear now that the center and incentives will not survive."
Fearing the campaign against the center could be a lever to politicize film funding, the Croatian Producers Association and Croatian Directors Guild accused the State Audit Office of making "aesthetic and artistic assessments … beyond [its] scope and jurisdiction."
They added that "since all contracts for film production are above 200,000 HRK, the State Audit Office is suggesting to introduce a practice where no film in Croatia will be allowed to be filmed without the consent of the government."
Under Croatian government rules, Hribar remains in office for two weeks following his resignation, meaning that he will attend the Berlin Film Festival, which opened Thursday night, to attend the European Film Market. He said that would give him the opportunity to explain the situation in person to producers and international film industry executives.