The Valletta Film Festival hosts a film co-production panel
- This year’s talk aimed to shed light on the challenges and opportunities in the context of the cinema of small nations
The third edition of the Valletta Film Festival continued its focus on the film industries of smaller countries. Following on from the success of last year’s conference The Cinema of Small Nations (see the report), this year the VFF organised a film co-production panel talk that aimed to shed light on the challenges and opportunities in the context of the cinema of small nations. The panel comprised film professionals from various sectors and countries, and the discussion took place at the Malta Postal Museum.
Edith Sepp, CEO of the Estonian Film Institute, opened the discussion by presenting the model that Estonia has been following for the past few years, mainly focused on co-productions. Taking advantage of its Soviet background, Estonia has built a powerful cinema sector that has allowed the country to continue to be productive, even in the 1990s. This year, the total funding for the Estonian Film Institute is verging on €10 million. The amount is split between production of national films (features, documentaries, animations and shorts), low-budget productions, minority co-productions, cross-media projects, local distribution and marketing. As for the minority co-productions, Estonia is aiming to be attractive by offering close to €300,000 in funding, easier and quicker application procedures, and two deadlines throughout the year. Furthermore, a cash-rebate scheme has been initiated, while interested producers can also apply to the local film funds of Tartu and Viru to top up their funding.
Engelbert Grech, film commissioner at the Malta Film Commission (MFC), also cited the fact that Malta is based on a tradition of many years of providing services to major international productions. This has certainly created a powerful background in cinema, although this tradition has not extended to local production. So now, Malta is in the very first stages of introducing a film culture to local filmmakers. The goal in the coming years is to shift the resources and expertise that the country has gained over all these years towards local productions in order to create a new generation that will produce films. Of course, Malta is still focused on co-productions, and the plan is to increase the amounts offered by its three film funds. The cash-rebate scheme, which can reach up to 32% and was initially limited to international productions, is now offered to locals, too. It is important to have a co-production fund that totals €1 million per year.
Rebecca Daly, an Irish director whose last film, Mammal [+see also:
film profile], was made as a co-production with Luxembourg and the Netherlands, focused on the practical challenges that a filmmaker faces when collaborating with different countries. She mentioned that there are certainly financial benefits to “outsourcing” part of the production to third countries, as this will produce a faster result. Nevertheless, this option is not always ideal, as a number of cultural barriers always exist, and the director can be forced to switch crew members in every country, especially when the film changes partners. These constant changes have the potential to stall the finalising of the film. In her case, where the co-production usually includes a part in the Netherlands, she has managed to build up relationships with local crew and to continue partnering with them.
Danilo Bećković, a Serbian director, also focused on his personal experiences. He mainly focused on both the challenges and the opportunities that the countries of the former Yugoslavia offer to directors. In this case, even though many of the new nations produce a small range of feature films, it is far easier to initiate multiple co-production schemes, as it is possible to reach local audiences that share a similar cultural background and, more importantly, a common language. Of course, co-productions extend to other neighbouring countries, especially Bulgaria, while Greece is also trying to be part of these co-productions.
Didier Bouchard, coordinator of the Meditalents scriptwriting workshop, followed up on this by detailing his professional experience in encouraging collaboration within the Mediterranean region. He mentioned that the hardest part for scriptwriters and directors is always to secure the necessary co-production funds, especially in a fragmented market that encompasses the whole Mediterranean basin. In this case, a viable option is always the CNC’s World Cinema Support fund, which is more flexible regarding the locations and the production team. Apart from that option, creators should always bear in mind that if they are aiming at the French market, they will need a French producer on board and their stories should somehow implicate and interact with France. This adds to the challenges they face in securing financing.
After the initial statements by panel members, the discussion was opened up to the audience, who raised different issues. One of the most important questions was the need to better co-ordinate the multiple deadlines given by European film centres. Local producers pointed out that the overlapping of deadlines makes co-production extremely difficult, mainly for bureaucratic reasons. All of the members of the panel agreed on this point, and Engelbert Grech revealed that the MFC was thinking of having an open call with no deadlines and quicker responses; however, this model will not be applicable everywhere, due to the differences in each country’s laws.
Finally, since Malta is closely related to the UK, the issue of Brexit was inevitably brought up, and once again, everyone agreed that this represented uncharted territory in most fields of industry, cinema included. For his part, the Maltese film commissioner explained that if the UK remains a member of the European Economic Area, then it is likely that nothing will change, but in any other case, things could end up being very different.
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