FNE spoke to Ana Ilić, the Head of Serbia Film Commission, about the activities, accomplishments and goals of the institution, as well as its relationship with Film Center Serbia, the challenges of the Serbian film industry and regional coproductions.
FNE: What was the biggest challenge in creating the Serbia Film Commission?
Ana Ilić: Creating the brand Film in Serbia and developing a strategy for positioning Serbia internationally as a viable filming destination has been a very exciting adventure. In the beginning, we knew how much Serbia had to offer in terms of production expertise, talent, infrastructure and locations, but there was absolutely no place where you could find information on any of that. So, we began with a simple idea to gather all the information and start the promotion, but we soon realised we needed an organisation behind the brand.
So, we built the Serbia Film Commission from scratch and with very little support from the government, but with great enthusiasm from the industry. There were 16 founding members – film and TV producers. Within five years the SFC grew to 80 members, many new partners and support from various sponsors and donors. We also joined two major international associations of film commissions – the global Association of Film Commissioners International (AFCI) and the European Film Commission Network (EUFCN), and have become members of their boards.
Serbia is the only country from southeastern Europe to be on the Board of Directors of the AFCI, but by far the biggest challenge was getting an incentive programme adopted by the Serbian government. There was no understanding of film and TV production as a business and economic endeavor that can be hugely impactful on the overall economy of a country, generating revenues, jobs, tourism promotion…
It took a lot of hard work, many studies and analyses, numerous media appearances and interviews and a great number of meetings with different Prime Ministers, ministers and government officials before the momentum was built and in August 2015 the government finally passed the incentive regulation.
FNE: What are the main goals and the main activities of Serbia Film Commission?
A.I.: Our goal is to develop Serbia as a regional hub for international filmmaking. We provide information and assistance to international clients interested in working in Serbia and we can recommend the best partners here from production companies to law firms, hotels, insurance brokers etc., as well as accessible locations.
We provide full support to producers in preparing applications for the 20% cash rebate. On the other hand, we work very closely with the government on structuring and implementing the regulation on the incentive programme. Building a film friendly environment throughout Serbia by training and certifying towns, municipalities and institutions is also an important activity for us. We have certified 28 towns and three public institutions as “film friendly” thus far. Also, we are very much dedicated to the training of film crews through our Mini Film Academy short courses.
FNE: What are your major accomplishments so far?
A.I.: The introduction of film incentives in Serbia is by far our biggest accomplishment. With all the research, legislation and consultations alongside heavy lobbying, this became the corner stone of the film commission’s work and continues to be part of our mission. Participating in the international film commission associations AFCI, where I was appointed Board member for two years, and the EUFCN, where my colleague, Milica Božanić, is currently serving on the Board, is also recognition of the work we have done as a young film commission from a small country in less than seven years of existence.
Having over 290 professionals who participate in our courses has been fantastic and it inspires us to provide further educational opportunities for our crews. We are very proud of our “film friendly” certification programme as well as our online locations database with over 5,000 photos.
FNE: How is your relationship with Film Center Serbia?
A.I.: Film Center Serbia is the key organisation for the funding and promotion of Serbian films and filmmakers. It is purely a government body and has been doing a great job over the last year since the new management was put in place.
Film in Serbia is an independent and non-profit professional association, that operates as a film commission and focuses only on facilitating the servicing of international productions from films to television, visual effects and TV commercials. We are very business focused. However, we work with the government on all levels a great deal and we are a neutral liaison between the private and public sectors.
We also work with educational institutions as well as businesses from many other sectors (hotels, insurance companies, law firms, etc.). We are open to working with any government or private organisation that will in some way help business interests of our members and improve the overall film friendly business and regulatory environment in the country.
We consider our work as a backbone of that process of providing assistance with locations, training and international linkages. While FCS is part of the Ministry of Culture, with a purely cultural mission, we build relationships with stakeholders in a more business-oriented manner to enable the film community to become a viable business community as much as it is a creative one.
FNE: What do you think is the biggest challenge in the Serbian film industry right now?
A.I.: Just like in the rest of the world, financing is always the biggest challenge. There is definitely no lack of ideas and creativity in this country. People are also very resourceful and passionate about their work. Getting the finances together, distributing the films locally despite a very low number of cinemas and getting international recognition are greatest challenges, I would say.
From the film commission's point of view, we only need to show now that the incentive programme is working smoothly, that it will be in place for many years to come, that people are getting their 20% back in a timely manner. Once we prove to the international film community that the programme is solid and reliable, only the sky is the limit. Serbia can easily host and serve any type of production.
FNE: How important is for you the regional collaboration and how important do you think European coproductions are for the development of Serbia’s film industry?
A.I.: The importance of regional and European coproductions is undisputable. We get a lot of inquiries for minority coproductions, which means that there is an interest in working with Serbian talent and professionals. Coproductions among former Yugoslav states are frequent and natural. Hopefully, as the Serbian government is providing more funding for Serbian films and minority coproductions, our producers and directors will have a much better chance of finding coproducers and partners in other countries.
In terms of servicing international productions, I think the regional cooperation will grow over the coming years as ex-Yugoslavia countries introduce incentive programmes. Serbia, Croatia and Macedonia have them already, and Montenegro is working on theirs. Because of an incomparable diversity of locations in these countries and a traditional industry as well as a language connection, international productions will benefit from a combination of locations and incentive programmes. We might initiate regional promotion as well, following in the steps of our very successful friends from Scandinavia who have joined forces in promoting their locations.
FNE: What are your future plans for Film in Serbia?
A.I.: Now that we’ve built all the infrastructure of a sound professional film commission, and have built great partnerships locally and internationally, we hope to be able to facilitate really big and credible productions coming to Serbia. It is not an easy task these days, but I am sure Serbia will be a hot filming destination in no time.
There are good production companies here, the environment really is film friendly both financially and logistically, locations are unique and crews are eager to work, highly professional and English speaking. As Film in Serbia, we hope to be able to expand and advance the services we provide our members and clients with, ensure that the government implements and extends the incentive programme, facilitate the coming of many interesting projects to Serbia, see our existing members grow and a great number of new business in the industry being built and the talent and crew being employed most of the year, every year.