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Can Andy Vajna fix Hungary's film crisis?

As the lauded producer takes charge of Hungary’s film commission, he needs to restore faith among filmmakers in Budapest.

Hollywood producer Andy Vajna [pictured] is taking charge of a government film-industry commission in his native Hungary, where a funding freeze has halted most local production. Additional cuts have put the country’s national film event on indefinite hold.

Vajna, whose Hollywood credits include Basic Instinct and Terminator as well as Hungarian drama Children Of Glory, is not speaking about his new role to the press yet. He said he wants first to analyse the situation in the Hungarian film industry.

The situation he inherits is grim: Local productions and co-productions are shutting down, unable to shoot until the government makes good on previously promised grants. Production companies are closing their offices. And most recently, organisers of Hungarian Film Week announced that the 42nd edition of the festival would be postponed for lack of funds.

Vajna’s 12-month commission with the Ministry for National Development and Economy charges him with restoring competitiveness to the local industry.

But he’ll also need to restore faith thick among filmmakers in Budapest, many of whom are hamstrung without public funding and blame the government.

The budget for Vajna’s new commission, a reported $9.7m (HUF 2bn), mirrors cuts to the Hungarian Motion Picture Public Foundation (MMKA). For decades the local industry ran on MMKA funding for production, distribution and promotional.

But last summer, new foundation President Zoltán Kőrösi froze the MMKA coffers, accusing his predecessors of wasting funds and running up millions of euros in debt. In December, the Hungarian parliament slashed MMKA’s 2011 budget by 80%.

The cuts do not affect Hungary’s popular production incentive, a 20% tax rebate for films shooting in the county. However they did kill the operational fees for Hungarian Film Week, traditionally held in early February. MMKA announced the showcase of new Hungarian films is merely postponed, but offered no further information. MMKA did not reply to emails and calls to its offices went unanswered.

Local filmmakers lamented the threat to the 42-year-old festival. “I think it’s terrible,” Béla Tarr told Screen. “My situation is different, but for young Hungarian filmmakers, it is their only chance to show their films to foreign critics and professionals.” [Tarr’s new film The Turin Horse will premiere at the Berlinale.]

One of those foreign professionals is Michael Kutza, founder and artistic director of the Chicago Film Festival. Kutza has attended the event throughout its history. “Hungarian Film Week made us familiar with masters like János Szász and István Szabó, whom we never would have met otherwise, and it helped obscure filmmakers become family names,” he said. “It worked.”

The delay to the festival is just a crack on the surface of the Hungarian industry, however; the fissure runs to its foundation.

Local productions in Hungary are built on a foundation of public money. But many producers are still waiting for funds they were promised last year.

Tarr said his production company has suspended work on several projects due to undelivered grants and he will soon have to close his office.

“This is a really shitty situation,” he said. “We can’t apply to Eurimages because we have to show the Hungarian part of the money, but the foundation is not able to give it to us. We won the money but we cannot go ahead.”

Péter Miskolczi, whose credits include Taxidermia, has likewise halted projects at his Eurofilm Studio. “This might cause serious damage to the films,” he said.

And to the company. “We have to find new operational model, similar to a project company, with no permanent staff, only those we need when we have a production,” Miskolczi said.

And indeed damage to Hungary’s film business as a whole. “I am afraid MMKA is finished,” he said. “The reduced budget level is not satisfactory for any kind of support. It makes Hungary less interesting for co-productions.”

Damage control will be high on Vajna’s list of fixes. Producers’ reactions to his appointment were cautious.

“Definitely he is a serious producer with a lot of experience,” Miskolczi said.

Filmmakers mainly want to know what Vajna is planning and how MMKA will spend its reduced budgets.

“It is a bit absurd, but we still haven’t been informed as to what actual changes we’ll face,” said Viktória Petrányi. Petrányi has produced Kornél Mundruczó’s Cannes titles Tender Son, Delta and Johanna. A further Mundruczó project is still moving forward, she said.

Petrányi acknowledged that MMKA had been “over-productive” in recent years and welcomed the opportunity to “learn from the mistakes. In a good scenario this could even bring along the unity of Hungarian filmmakers,” she said.

Some projects affected by funding cuts in Hungary

What’s off

Benedek Fliegauf’s Crows Fly (working title)

Péter Gothár’s The Mine Laundry

Ágnes Kocsis’ Eden

János Szász’s Rémkirály

What’s on

Kornél Mundruczó’s The Flying Man

István Szabó’s The Door

Bela Tarr’s The Turin Horse, in competition at Berlin

Hungary’s 20% tax rebate for productions shooting locally

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