02-10-2020

FNE INTERVIEW with Csaba Káel, Head of National Film Institute - Hungary

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BUDAPEST: Film New Europe talked to Csaba Káel, the Head of the National Film Institute - Hungary (NFI), about the priorities of the institution established in January 2020 and how its strategy was challenged by the Coronavirus pandemic.

Csaba Káel, Head of Hungarian National Film Institute, photo credit: NFI / Csibi SzilviaFNE: What in your opinion are the most positive developments in the Hungarian industry in 2019-2020?

Csaba Káel: At the time of my appointment as government commissioner I declared that we will not just deal with the so-called film industry anymore, but the entire motion picture culture. I think narrowing moving images down to feature films for theatrical release is an aristocratic world view that we cannot afford to have in the 21st century. We have to pay attention to exciting new platforms such as VOD or television, which increasingly fill people’s spare time, and we must also think about moving-image production as a system, as one strategic unit.

This was the reason we decided to establish the National Film Institute (NFI) as of January 2020. This organisation is now responsible for providing financial and professional support for script development, pre-production and production of feature films, documentaries and animated films for theatrical release, as well as for television productions (TV films, serial formats, short films, documentaries, animated films). We’d like to give back the prestige of TV films and documentaries, which turned motion pictures into a form of education.

People read less and less, and increasingly consume information through moving images. We have to take this into account when planning distribution. Before, if there was potential for a TV film to become a motion picture, it wasn't feasible under the previous funding system because there was no permeation between platforms.

FNE: What is the main strategy of the National Film Institute to balance the Coronavirus pandemic effects?

Csaba Káel: In the last period we have been working hard to continuously provide work for nearly 20,000 Hungarian film professionals and to ensure that Hungarian and international productions can restart as early as possible under safe conditions. The application process, also for minority coproductions, was continuous, the Film and Television Boards were making decisions. The NFI also supported the industry, the whole film and television community, through measures ranging from changes to the grants procedure to a special fund providing immediate support for those in need.

A set of measures has been introduced to help entrepreneurs survive the pandemic affecting the Hungarian screen industry profoundly. To prevent high unemployment in the sector due to the cancelled and postponed shootings, the NFI rescheduled the financing of all ongoing projects. The measure allowed an extension of the implementation period (pre-production) for all projects that had to be postponed and assures their funding for the coming months.

We do our best to fully recover the Hungarian film industry from the current situation and to keep our leading position in the international film industry. Hungary continues to attract filmmakers from all around the world with unique shooting locations, exceptionally talented and creative crews, high-profile studios and a 30% tax-rebate. 

FNE: How important is it for you to coproduce with neighbouring and with other European countries?

Csaba Káel: During recent months, we did not slow down our efforts to encourage producers to apply with coproduction ideas. Our aim is to support new initiatives, especially projects that through their Central European stories show the world who we are and how we live. I find the dialogue we have started with the neighbouring countries is even more important.

The NFI may finance one third of a coproduction budget, to which Hungary can add 30% of the overall production spending in tax rebate. That’s not a small sum. It is important for us to encourage coproductions because collaborations benefit the distribution of Hungarian films abroad; and partners are interested in getting the widest distribution possible for their coproductions.

We especially have to take Central European coproductions very seriously. I am convinced the Central European approach to life, joy and sorrow appeals to a lot of people. We have to tell stories about our lives and the key to success is to present ourselves as authentically and captivatingly as possible.

FNE: The shooting of international productions started earlier in Hungary than in other European countries once the state of emergency ended. What are the prospects till the end of 2020?

Csaba Káel: Although no “official” ban was imposed on film production in Hungary during the pandemic, several international productions have interrupted or postponed shooting. We have been working together with the service companies, studios and authorities, on how international productions can restart under safe conditions as early as possible. In the interests of safety, the NFI drew up the necessary recommendations to protect cast and crew against the coronavirus.

The aim of the ‘Health Protection Plan’ is to provide a professional summary of the general risk assessment and health precautions developed for the special requirements of the film industry. Furthermore, the procedure of travelling to Hungary for foreign citizens was also issued to support all stakeholders. Thanks to these joint efforts, not only Hungarian, but international productions have restarted during the summer, including Dune, Birds of Paradise and The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent. We expect more and more productions to come back to Hungary.

FNE: Hungary was among the first countries in Central and Eastern Europe to introduce production incentives and has been very successful in attracting international productions. Now most neighbouring countries have also introduced production incentives. What do you think gives Hungary the edge in continuing to attract big foreign productions?

Csaba Káel: The film industry is a focal strategic sector and it is a priority for us to preserve also in the future the leading position of the Hungarian film industry achieved at the international level. In 2019 the Hungarian film industry broke all-time records with direct film production spending exceeding 468 m EUR / 164 billion HUF. This is not only due to the fact that Hungary welcomes international productions with a 30% tax rebate, but mainly due to the highly experienced Hungarian film industry experts. Furthermore, Hungary offers excellent amenities, high level of infrastructure and cutting edge studios.

We firmly believe that the Hungarian film industry will only be able to keep its competitiveness in the international industry if we continuously focus on development. As a part of its economic protection programme, the Hungarian Government decided to develop the National Film Institute’s Mafilm studios, increasing its capacity to 12,200 square meters.

The high priority expansion project will serve both international and the increasing demand of Hungarian productions in the future, and create hundreds of new jobs. The expansion is allowing Mafilm to attract and host large-scale blockbuster productions while still providing world-class facilities for TV and film projects. The new soundstages are designed to be flexible enough to accommodate a variety of types of productions and will be in proximity to the backlot sets and support facilities like props and transportation.

FNE: Where do you see the Hungarian film industry in five years from now?

Csaba Káel: I expect that Hungary will keep its leading and central position in the European film industry. Beyond attracting international productions to Hungary with the tax incentive, experienced crews and state-of-art infrastructure, we also aim to play a pivotal role in content production through supporting European and regional coproductions. With the development and expansion of our distribution channels we will continue to promote Hungarian films and increase the viewership of Hungarian motion picture content worldwide.