Martin Šmatlák • Head, Slovak Audiovisual Fund
“The top priority is the finalisation of the projects supported for production, even with a delay, given the current situation”
- Director of the Slovak Audiovisual Fund Martin Šmatlák talks to us about measures being taken in the aftermath of the COVID-19 outbreak and the rebooting of the domestic film industry
Martin Šmatlák, the head of the Slovak Audiovisual Fund since its inception in 2009, talks to Cineuropa about how the organisation is handling the unprecedented situation following the outbreak of the coronavirus, which paralysed the whole audiovisual industry.
Cineuropa: The coronavirus crisis hit the independent cultural sector pretty hard. In light of this impact, is the Slovak Audiovisual Fund planning any adjustments?
Martin Šmatlák: We adopted operational solutions in the beginning. We focused mainly on supporting cinemas, as they were the first to shut down their operations. We are currently distributing almost €600,000 to cinemas based on the attendance results for Slovak films in the previous year. It’s the highest amount in the history of this particular support programme. The top priority is the preservation and finalisation of projects supported for production, even with a delay, given the current situation. After the cinemas re-open, it will be necessary to re-evaluate the strategy for supporting the distribution of new films, as several of them are likely to find more meaningful releases on online platforms. Of course, we are being accommodating with festivals, several of which have had to postpone their dates.
What do you expect the aftermath of the pandemic to be like?
I believe that in order to gauge the specific impacts, we will need a more detailed mapping, which should take place after film production and distribution have restarted. Of course, the biggest losses are so far being reported by cinemas and film distributors, whose revenues have fallen to zero overnight. However, regarding supported film projects or festivals, none of them has reported such serious problems that would threaten to shut them down entirely.
Which of the fund’s measures do you consider to be the most significant?
It was crucial for us to secure the finances earmarked to support the audiovisual industry, which we preliminarily estimated to be €7.5 million last year. After updating all the relevant data, we have adjusted the total sum to €4.5 million. The stability of this source of financing and the establishment of it by law is a crucial measure. In cooperation with the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Culture, we have set up mechanisms for calculating and utilising this contribution so that there is no forced interruption in providing the support owing to a lack of resources reserved for this purpose. One major change brought an increase in the cash rebate rate from 20% to 33%, and this came into effect this January [see the news], along with other adjustments that make this support even more flexible and effective for the development of the audiovisual industry.
Are you preparing any other measures to reboot the audiovisual industry, like the Czech Republic did [see the news]?
So far, we have been able to cover all of the measures with the fund’s money from this year’s budget. We have not received any additional finances from the state yet. However, we have prepared a proposal for the Ministry of Culture, which should help to get films and moviegoers back into the cinemas, in cooperation with the professional associations of producers, distributors and cinemas. But this project really needs extra cash provided by the state, like in the Czech Republic or other EU countries.
Will the measures apply to international projects?
Almost all Slovakian films are made as international projects. The closure of the borders between European states has therefore inevitably affected such cooperation as well. However, I am afraid that the opening will only be very gradual and cautious, which may also result in the weakening or even withdrawal of some foreign co-production partners and their resources.
Will the support for upcoming calls in 2020 be limited owing to the emergency situation?
If we want to focus primarily on the successful completion and public launch of projects that are already under way and which had to change their schedules or financial plans, then naturally, we need to select projects applying for the fund’s support more carefully. But I do not expect the total volume of support provided by the fund to fall significantly in 2020.
Online launches and distribution soared during the lockdown. The fund supported several of these initiatives with the “one euro per viewer” tool, which was originally devised to support domestic production. You mentioned that this support should also apply to European productions.
I think that producers and distributors will themselves start looking for more opportunities to use audiovisual content in the online environment. Of course, we will be happy to support them in these efforts. In the current call, we have already supported the operations of the DAFilms platform and other applications for online film distribution. We are preparing to extend the "one euro per admission" instrument to European films as well. However, together with distributors and cinemas, we need to make financial recalculations for this support so that it is both effective and useful for the beneficiaries, but also financially viable for the fund.
A new government took office during the coronavirus crisis, including a new minister of culture, who has a different programme to her predecessor. Do you expect big changes in the collaboration between the Ministry of Culture and the Slovak Audiovisual Fund?
We have been actively communicating with the Ministry of Culture since the beginning of the coronavirus crisis [see the news]. In addition to the relaxation of hygiene measures for cinemas, the result has been the adoption of an amendment to the law which has opened up more flexible conditions for the support of the audiovisual industry and for the promotion of new Slovakian films. Besides the aforementioned project for a special financial contribution from the state budget, the issue of reducing the entry-level "investment" limit for our cash-rebate system is also a topic to be discussed. The Institute for Cultural Policies, which operates under the Ministry of Culture, has already prepared an estimate of the impact of such a reduction, and we will continue to address this subject. Finally, support for the audiovisual industry is one of the priorities in the government's programme statement, so I assume that we will find other effective solutions for sustainable development in this area.
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