FNE Visegrad Special: 2011 Hungarian Film Industry Overview

By FNE Staff

    BUDAPEST: Most of the Hungarian film professionals spent the last year waiting. The main supporter of the sector, the Hungarian Motion Picture Foundation (MMK) became insolvent in mid-2010, leaving production companies, art film distributors, art cinemas and other stakeholders in the film industry carrying huge debts.

    In December 2010, it became clear that the Hungarian government would no longer support the MMK and was determined to close it, as the national budget voted by the Parliament only granted the Foundation a fragment of its previous money. In January 2011 Andy Vajna, a 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 support system for film production.

    Vajna did not receive a unanimous welcomed from the producers, some of whom feared that their independence and the previously self-governing funding structure of MMK were at stake. Several filmmakers protested against his plans to centralize the distribution of supports and to increase control over the productions. Petitions and articles were published asking to reserve the diversity of the Hungarian film culture. However, the film professionals couldn't muster any real power against the government's plans, primarily because their survival depends on the government's decision. MMK was unable to pay the yet unpaid supports from 2010 by itself, and they could only get their money if the government allocated funds to this cause from somewhere else.

    In half a year, Vajna strengthened his position among the film professionals, although he was unable to fully restart the industry in that short period. Eight months after his appointment, most producers see him as their only chance. Vajna is known to have a close relationship with Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, and he proved to have strong lobbying powers when he managed to acquire an extra 6 billion HUF (cca. 20 million EUR) to pay the debts of the MMK. This amount might not be enough to pay all the loans, but 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.

    Despite that the 6 billion HUF is said to be on the accounts of the Hungarian National Film Fund, the state-owned company founded recently according to Vajna's plan, consolidation has yet to begin. 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 she is still waiting for the last paperwork to be finished by government officials in order to have the full rights to do that. Due to the slowness of the administration, these matters could still be an issue in 2012.

    While Vajna and the Hungarian National Film Fund promise more transparency and a less subjective decision making process than before, the opposition in the administration started doing the contrary. A struggle between Vajna and Géza Szőcs, the Cultural Secretary of State in the Ministry of National Resources, may be the biggest obstacle in the way of the consolidation and the launch of the new support model. Szőcs is also a close friend of the Prime Minister, and he also received funds to support the film industry. The Film Fund and the Ministry recently came to an agreement over their separate authorities, opening the way for the modification of the Film Law that is a necessary to start the new system.

    Szőcs had 800 million HUF (2.8 million EUR) to support film production. According to an interview with him published on [origo], one of the biggest Hungarian news portal, he didn't want to lose time and money, therefore he alone decided which projects to finance. The Ministry did not have call for projects to apply, 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. Major grants were given to János Szász (The Big Notebook) and Attila Vidnyánszky (The Boy Who Became a Deer), and smaller support was granted to Bence Gyöngyössy ( for a film about the last hours of Franz Liszt), Andor Szilágyi (For Whom the Nightingale Sings) two documentaries (by László Pesty and Barna Kabay), Péter Gothár (The Mine-Washer), Bálint Kenyeres (Hier), Benedek Fliegauf (The Crows are Flying) and Krisztina Deák (Aglaja). Szőcs spoke with high expectations about an international project that to be directed by Lajos Koltai, where the main character is Kincsem, a Hungarian racing-horse that won all the races it participated in during the 19th century. The decisions have not yet appeared on the website of the Ministry, but they became public through the above mentioned interview. Many say that Szőcs supported these really diverse projects to prove that the Hungarian film is still alive.

    Although the production of Hungarian films almost completely stopped in the second half of 2010, some national movies hit the cinemas in the last year. Glasstiger 3. premiered in December 2010 and reached 300,000 viewers - a blockbuster by Hungarian standards. The most important art house releases were Adrienn Pál by Ágnes Kocsis (winner of the Fipresci prize at Cannes 2010 and FNE Visegrad Prix), The Turin Horse by Béla Tarr (winner of Silver Bear at the Berlinale) and Womb by Benedek Fliegauf (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 the field that is most in the spotlight - production of feature films - other parts of the film industry are in serious trouble. The Hungarian Film Week was organized months later than usual with a reduced budget, and the event is unlikely to be held in 2012. Titanic International Film Festival could disappear as well, as CinePécs did this year. Several major Hungarian cities are left now without an art house cinema (such as Sopron or Győr), 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 stated that they would give allocate 700 million HUF (2.5 million EUR) for the production of documentaries, short films and animations. Negotiations have already started with film professionals.

    It was not only the closure of several art house cinemas that increased the concentration on the cinema market, but also the acquisition of Palace Cinemas by Cinema City - IT Cinemas. Nearly all of the Hungarian multiplexes are now either owned or controlled by IT Cinemas, meaning that about 90% of the revenue goes to the multinational company. IT Cinemas increased the speed of the implementation of DCI projectors in its venues, and they are expected to stop using 35 mm projectors by the end of 2012. This would bring a huge change to the Hungarian cinema business, as there are very few independent cinemas that have the money for this investment. The major distributors are likely to stop releasing the films on 35 mm in the near future, thus leaving smaller cinemas without big films to show.