FNE Austrians reach out to CEE neighbors

By Cathy Meils in Bratislava

    The Vienna Film Fund's director Peter Zawrel has been actively courting CEE producers, showing up at Slovenia's coproduction meeting in mid-November, and at a December 4 panel on Slovak film organized by the Slovak Film Institut (www.sfu.sk) and sponsored by Film New Europe.

    The 17 year old VFF (www.filmfonds-wien.at) was launched with its sight set to the west, but when Austrian producers began initiating coproductions with Central European neighbors, funding followed.

    "We started to cooperate six or seven years ago," Zawrel told FNE, with Hungary emerging as VFF's most active partner after Germany and France. "Up to 2008, we had ten Hungarian coproductions. In 2009, we have four," he said. The trend is expected to continue in 2010.

    "We have a long common history together," he said, "now it's an economic and cultural relationship. If we don't find the right location, we go to Hungary. For the first time an Austrian film was shot completely in Hungary and a Hungarian film was shot completely in Austria.

    While Czechs have also been coproduction partners, and Slovaks to a lesser extent, there is yet to be a coproduction with Austria's southern neighbor Slovenia. "It's been a problem of continuity and funding," Zawrel explained.

    The growing VFF budget is one of Austria's draws. In 2010 it will rise to 11.5 million euros (up from 10 million euros in 2009). The VFF is currently funding around 40 productions per year, including 20-25 feature films. Along with that, Austria is introducing a tax refunding system modeled on Germany's DFF to begin in mid-2010, with a budget expected to be in the range of 15-16 million euros. Funds will be aimed at large budget coproductions.

    For Slovakia, there could be even better news. WFF is now considering expansion of its "Vienna affect" requirement to include Bratislava, a result of what Zawrel calls "the Vienna-Bratislava phenomenon." Industry professionals commute on a daily basis, most commonly with Slovak technicians heading to Vienna and Austrian actors heading to Bratislava for dubbing work.

    The situation is improving o the TV front as well. ORF, Austria's state TV, had been refusing to fund minor coproductions, but a new law requiring the ORF to fund more European coproductions is expected to change that policy.

    Slovakia finds itself well-positioned to benefit, especially after he recent Viennale win for Slovak director Peter Kerekes' Cooking History, a Slovak coproduction with Austria and the Czech Republic. "I'm happy Slovakia is finally opening up," says Zawrel.