FNE EXCLUSIVE: Interview with Czech Minister of Culture Jiri Besser


    PRAGUE: FNE's General Director Anna Franklin met with Czech Minister of Culture Jiri Besser in his office in Prague for an exclusive one on one interview before KVIFF to discuss his views on international and regional cultural cooperation, Czech film and Czech coproductions and the new Czech tax incentives.

    {mosimage}Anna Franklin, Film New Europe: What is your opinion about the position that Czech culture occupies in the Czech Republic and why is it necessary to support culture?

    JiriBesser, Ministry of Culture: First of all the Czech nation is very cultural. Its history goes back to the roots of European culture and Czech culture has been influenced the European culture and it has been also influenced by European culture. Czech culture is an integral part of the European culture even now when the whole of Europe and actually the entire world is undergoing an economic crisis we try to make sure that this still remains unchanged.

    When it comes to the support of culture we try to take a similar approach as the rest of Europe. When I meet with ministers of culture or with their deputies or representatives of ministries of culture of the individual member states in Brussels we have the opportunity to discuss the various structures for the financing of culture in the individual member states.

    Of course every country's culture is specific and this has to be taken into consideration. We need to orientate ourselves to the various ways culture is supported in Europe. We must be able to respond to what is permitted or allowed in the in individual EU member states of the EU.

    Let us look at the example of film incentives. This Czech government is now introducing overall general reforms, economic and financial reforms, pension reforms, system reforms, health care system reform. It is not on the agenda of this government to apply any exceptions or to introduce any subsidies; however when it comes to film incentives and existing film incentives at the EU level, I am very pleased that the cabinet has made an exception.

    I will elaborate on the tax incentives later.

    Just now I would like to go back to the financing of culture. It's not possible to compare in any tables the tax burden and also the subsidy policies in the individual EU states, because the tax system varies from one EU member state to another and there are also various methods of tax collection within the states or regions of a particular country. Therefore the popular method of how to express support in the individual states for culture which is percentage of GDP is not really a good method of comparison. If the economy slows down because of the economic recession and GDP goes down so the percentage does not really tell you anything it. But also if you allocate the same amount of money to culture and the GDP goes down then the percentage goes up so I think it is not a good basis for comparison

    However the percentage of GDP is a good way of comparing funding financing within one country. You can compare percentage for various areas for which various ministries are responsible. Then it's a clear indicator of the approach or relationship of the state to various areas in our case its culture. Let's take the example of Italy. Italy allocates 0.3% for the support of culture. Do you think that Italy is not a cultural country? Also the funding or the financing of culture is not just about state support it's also about the ability of the country to get the private sector and other sources of financing involved.

    We are trying hard to make sure that sufficient financing for culture is provided from the state budget for the Czech culture but we will see in the next few years what will be the economic situation and what possibilities we will have to support the Czech culture. Every country has to set its priorities when it comes to funding from the state budget. The minister of culture has to be able to find the right balance between the role of the state and creating the right conditions to enable the country to maintain its culture.

    FNE: Our readers have been asking about the tax incentives in the Czech Republic. Why did you decide the tax incentives were needed film production in the Czech Republic and what do you hope this policy will achieve for the country?

    Besser: Film incentives have existed in the EU since 2002 and the Czech Republic has had a very good film industry for a very long time. We have a very good environment for filmmaking, good locations for filmmaking, and we also have great expertise here with many people with the right professional skills. In the past when the neighbouring EU countries did not have the same right conditions for filmmaking the film industry was a very significant industry in the Czech Republic.

    But if there is an exception in one EU country in terms of tax incentives then filmmakers begin thinking more about the trade off between quality and saving money. Therefore the Czech Republic also applied to the EU for an exception to be able to have tax incentives for film production. The reason was to remove what amounted to a form of discrimination that existed here in the filmmaking environment. I am very pleased that I was able to explain this discrimination against our Czech film making industry to my colleagues in the government. I am very glad that the government decided to take advantage of the exception that was granted to the Czech Republic by the EU last year and last year we became the 12th EU member state that can provide film tax incentives. The cabinet and the Czech government approved funding support amounting to CZK 300 million for 2011. The state budget for 2012 is now being prepared and I believe that also thanks to an evaluation of the tax incentives that has been already approved by the cabinet it will be possible to allocate at least the same amount in 2012

    FNE: Will the tax incentives bring more jobs, more productions, more money into the Czech Republic economy?

    Besser: Using the results of the evaluation, in the Czech Republic there will be no decrease in jobs, according to the figures in the evaluation in total the film incentives are a benefit for the Czech state budget.

    FNE: So in total they bring in more than the CZK 300 million that they cost?

    Besser: The evaluation showed that the increase in income is about 18%; however there is a certain portion of economic theory that is involved. I personally am convinced that the tax incentives for the film industry are beneficial. My role is always to convince the minister of finance and other colleagues in the cabinet.

    FNE: One of the main functions of FNE is to encourage international cultural cooperation in the European film industry. What is your position on the cultural cooperation in film between the Czech Republic and the EU and especially with the neighbouring countries?

    Besser: As I mentioned I meet with the other EU ministers of culture once every two months. We cooperate and work together to tackle joint tasks in the area of European cultural policies. What is very important is the specific platform of the Visegrad countries. At the beginning of October there will be a meeting in Moravia of the cultural representatives of the four Visegrad countries. I convened this meeting and the organizer is the Czech Ministry of Culture.

    When it comes to cinematography we have coproduction projects mainly with Slovakia. Just to give you an example there is a coproduction with Rudolf Bierman titled Cigane/Gypsy. The premier will take place in Karlovy Vary. With Poland we have the production project Yuma. We do not cooperate with that often with France but the film The Beloved that was shown at the end of the Cannes Film Festival was a Czech-French coproduction.

    Also Janosik and Lidice are coproduction projects. Janosik was great in every version that I have ever seen because all boys of any age admired him at some point in their lives.

    FNE: Janosik was a Czech Polish coproduction involving Film New Europe board member Dariusz Jablonski who was the main coproducer of Janosik.

    Besser: Everyone has always liked Janosik. He's similar to Robin Hood in this region.

    FNE: Thank you very much for your time.


    Interview took place 6 June 2011 at the Czech Ministry of Culture in Prague