23-09-2011

FNE Visegrad: 2011 Hungarian Film Industry Overview

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BUDAPEST: Most of the Hungarian film professionals spent the last year waiting for the government to restructure funding for the Hungarian film industry. The Hungarian Film Fund (www.filmalap.hu) has just announced its first call for grants for film production after more than a year during which most film production in Hungary ground to a halt due to lack of funding. The Film Fund has 1.6 billion forints for 2011 but it has not been announced how much of it will be distributed for support of film production this year.

Film production fell dramatically in 2011 compared to previous years. In 2008 the Hungarian National Film Office registered 484 films (features, documentaries, animation and short films) for production with a total budget of 45.6 billion HUF. In 2009 the number of productions fell to 366 with a value of 48.4 billion HUF, in 2010 only 317 films were registered, adding up to 45 billion HUF. In 2011, in the first 6 months, only 78 productions registered to the Film Office, their aggregated budget is 12.9 billion HUF.

The Hungarian Motion Picture Foundation (www.mmka.hu) which had been the main institution for the support of the Hungarian film industry became insolvent in mid-2010 due to the government’s decision not to honour its contract with the organisation, leaving production companies, art film distributors, art cinemas and other stakeholders in the film industry carrying huge debts. The MMK owes the film industry about 10 billion HUF. In December 2010, the Hungarian government allotted only 1 billion HUF, a fraction of its earlier budget that was about 5 billion HUF. MMK was earmarked for closure with only enough money allotted from the government budget to close it down.

In January 2011 Andy Vajna, the Hungarian-born American producer, was appointed as government commissioner of the film industry by the Prime Minister, and he was asked to develop a new system of support film production.

While Vajna initially faced protests from some Hungarian filmmakers such as Ildikó Enyedi, Benedek Fliegauf, Szabolcs Hajdú, Miklós Jancsó, Ágnes Kocsis, Márta Mészáros, Kornél Mundruczó, György Pálfi, Béla Tarr as well as international film professionals who feared he would not support the production of art films when he took the helm within six months Vajna strengthened his position and garnered support within the industry.

Vajna has a good relationship with the present government and through his negotiations he managed to obtain an additional 6 billion HUF (about 20m EUR) to pay off the majority of MMK’s debts. While not enough to cover all debts, in the midst of a national fiscal crisis when the Hungarian government is making huge cuts in social, educational and cultural programmes, it stands as an exceptional achievement.

Vajna also set up the new Hungarian National Film Fund, which opened its first call from grants for film production in September 2011. This is the first open call for grants in Hungary since November 2009.

The temporary head of the Film Fund, Ágnes Havas has promised to close deals with the banks that gave loans to the film production companies and start the negotiations with the producers, distributors and exhibitors, but the process is still bogged down due to the wait for last paperwork to be finished by government.

Vajna and the Hungarian National Film Fund have promised more transparency and a less subjective decision making process than under the previous system. The other key player in government funding is Géza Szőcs, the Cultural Secretary of State in the Ministry of National Resources.

According to to an interview with Szőcs published on origo.hu, one of the biggest Hungarian news portals he had 800 million HUF (2.8 million EUR) to support film production which he felt it was urgent to disperse given the crisis in the film industry so he personally made the decision which projects to spend it on.

The Ministry did not have call for projects to apply for grants, and the Secretary distributed the money among the directors and producers who approached him formally or informally.

The largest grant was given to The Door, a Hungarian-German coproduction by István Szabó which is already in postproduction (FilmArt, www.filmart.hu). Major grants were given to János Szász (The Big Notebook, Hunnia Filmstúdió, www.hunniafilm.hu) and Attila Vidnyánszky (The Boy Who Became a Deer, Új Neurópa 2010 Kft.), and smaller support was granted to Bence Gyöngyössy (for a film about the last hours of Franz Liszt, Utolsó Rapszódia Kft.), Andor Szilágyi (For Whom the Nightingale Sings) two documentaries (by László Pesty and Barna Kabay), Péter Gothár (The Mine-Washer, T.T. Filmműhely Kft.), Bálint Kenyeres (Hier, Cameofilm, http://www.cameofilm.hu), Benedek Fliegauf (The Crows are Flying, Inforg – M&M Film Kft.) and Krisztina Deák (Aglaja, Leinád Művészeti Bt.). Szőcs spoke with high expectations about an international project that is to be directed by Lajos Koltai, where the main character is Kincsem, a Hungarian race horse that won all the races it participated in during the 19th century (producer: Gábor Losonczi). The decisions have not yet appeared on the website of the Ministry, but they became public through the above mentioned interview.

Although the production of Hungarian films almost completely stopped in the second half of 2010, some national productions hit the cinemas last year. Glasstiger 3. (directed by Péter Rudolf, produced by Filmpartners, http://www.filmpartners.hu) premiered in December 2010 and reached 300,000 audience – a blockbuster by Hungarian standards. The most important art house releases were Adrienn Pál by Ágnes Kocsis (KMH Films, www.kmhfilm.com, winner of the Fipresci prize at Cannes 2010 and FNE Visegrad Prix), The Turin Horse by Béla Tarr (T.T. Filmműhely, winner of Silver Bear at the Berlinale) and Womb by Benedek Fliegauf (Inforg, a relatively big budget coproduction, starring Eva Green). Adrienn Pál and The Turin Horse became successes in the art house cinemas with 10,000 and 5,000 admissions.

As both Vajna and Szőcs are concentrating on production of feature films – other parts of the film industry are in serious trouble. The Hungarian Film Week (www.magyarfilmszemle.hu) was organized months later than usual with a reduced budget, and the event is unlikely to be held in 2012. Titanic International Film Festival (www.titanicfilmfest.hu) could disappear as well, as CinePécs Film Festival did this year. Several major Hungarian cities are left now without an art house cinema (such as Sopron or Győr) as many operators have closed, and serious film magazines and portals are on the verge of bankruptcy as well.

For the “small genres” as the decision makers call short films and documentaries, some support might come from the Media Support and Asset Management Fund (MTVA), a company that was established by the merger of the state-owned television and radio broadcasters. MTVA (www.mtva.hu) stated that they would allocate 700 million HUF (2.5 million EUR) for the production of documentaries, short films and animations. Negotiations are already underway with filmmakers.

The acquisition of Palace Cinemas by Cinema City – IT Cinemas reduced the diversity of ownership in the exhibition sector. Nearly all Hungarian multiplexes are now either owned or controlled by IT Cinemas, with about 90% of the revenue going to the multinational company. IT Cinemas accelerated the installation of DCI projectors in its venues, and 35 mm projectors are expected to be phased out by the end of 2012. As very few independent cinemas have the money to invest in DCI projectors, this will change the face of Hungarian exhibition. Major distributors are expected to stop releasing the films on 35 mm soon, leaving smaller cinemas without big films to show.