First Feature Film Completed Under Hungary Fund Bows at Karlovy Vary

Andy Vajna - 2007
MJ Kim/Getty Images

CEO of national financing entity declares "the Hungarians are back."

KARLOVY VARY – The first feature film completed with backing from Hungary’s new national film fund had its world premiere Wednesday at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

Janos Szasz’s Le grand cahier (A nagy fuzet, also known in English as The Notebook) -- a Hungarian co-production with Germany, France and Austria that tells the harsh story of twin brothers put into the care of a cruel grandmother during World War II -- received $780,000 (€600,000) of its $4 million (€3.1 million) budget from the Hungarian National Film Fund (HNFF).

An adaptation of Agota Kristof’s international best-seller, the film’s three-year journey from script to a screening at one of Europe’s leading film events coincided with a major shake-up in Hungarian public film funding.

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

A change of government and revelations of multimillion-dollar debts -- along with allegations of corruption at predecessor body the Hungarian Motion Picture Public Foundation (MMKA) -- led to the establishment of the new film fund backed by national lottery funding worth $26 million this year.

Budapest-born Hollywood producer Andy Vajna (Rambo, Terminator, Nixon) was brought in to oversee the reforms to fund commercially viable films destined for theatrical release.

At the time, the changes provoked dismay among many filmmakers who feared they would no longer win public funding for their projects. While some famous Hungarian directors publicly denounced the new system -- most notably art house director Bela Tarr, who announced his retirement from filmmaking -- most chose to give it time to prove itself.

STORY: Bavaria Film Group Signs Partnership with Hungary's Origo Film Studios

Szasz, whose film initially won support from the MMKA before receiving interim backing from the government, completed the movie under Vajna’s new system.

It’s the first of six films slated for release this year and next -- including Kornel Mundruczo’s White God (Feher isten) and Karoly Ujj MeszarosLiza, the Fox-Fairy -- and is one of 27 movies that have been greenlighted for production funds.

HNFF CEO Agnes Havas said strict rules governing revenue share, accountancy practices and, in some cases, granting the fund international sales rights for backed projects had established financial transparency and revolving-door funding for further movies.

“Hungarian films are back in the market,” Havas told The Hollywood Reporter shortly before Le grand cahier screened Wednesday.

"Under the old system, more money was spent than the foundation had. All that has changed now.”

Havas, who began her career in film in the 1980s and has worked with HBO, among others, said the selection committee system of the new fund guarantees that a genuinely wide range of projects win backing.

“We are backing existing talent and bringing forward new talent,” she said.

Szasz, who works in both film and theater, said despite the changes of funding bodies, the whole process had been "smooth."

"It was even easy; I cannot and won’t complain."