The French philosopher Andre Glücksmann had aptly formulated years ago that wrong actions are usually preceded by wrong thinking.
This almost says it all. Because the announcement on May 5 this year, to save the film industry suffering from corona with a million euro for additional budget funds for the Austrian Film Insitute and 500,000 euros especially for the art house cinemas, remained along with the successor of the secretary of state, who resigned anyway - as a sum, as Narrative, as a success, as an all-round rescue operation. Because there has been nothing new or different from the new person in charge of culture since taking office - with the exception of the default or liability fund for filming, which hasn't cost the Republic a cent so far. But no criticism was heard anymore, because - and the critical filmmakers know that - this won't succeed twice and then culture is back to where it was before, something secondary. Except for the Salzburg Festival, whose positioning is due to a combination of business, politics and a little bit of culture. But first things first.
First of all, what won't succeed?
To direct the focus on the concerns of the creative artists and their situation in such a way that a visibly hapless but also helpless politician has no choice but to throw in the towel. Oddly this was spared other members of the government, or was Ulrike Lunacek a single fate and the rest of the federal government shines that much (gaps in memory, strange interviews on television, the little Walsertal and all other more or less dramatic Hoppalas aside) that the sight without sunglasses can hardly be endured?
Let's talk about the million more for the Austrian Film Insitute
It should be mentioned that the Austrian Film Institute budget has not increased for almost a decade. Christoph Matznetter, business spokesman for the SPÖ and, as a former State Secretary in the Ministry of Finance, also negotiated these budgets at the end of the 10s, calls this a deflation and said in the MediaBiz interview that this is almost equivalent to a halving of the budget. But not only that, the budget was cut for the first time in 2020, completely unnoticed by the general public. In recent years, the Austrian Film Institute has had to deal not only with constant budgets, but also with increasing structural tasks that will reduce the amount of money available for films. One of the tasks was to endow the Eurimage budget, into which all participating countries have to pay. Austria is actually involved with half a million, which was paid from the budget of the Ministry of Culture in the past years, until they came up with the resourceful idea that the Austrian Film Institute should pay instead of them - maybe because the 500.000€ were missing somewhere else. The protests by the Austrian Film Institute had been noted, but there was no response from the ministry. Until the very end, when they suddenly said they would understand our concerns and in the future the funding for Eurimage will be done from the Ministry like in recent years. Oh, but before we forget to mention it, your budget for 2020, dear Austrian Film Institute, is now being reduced by exactly this amount. Step away, carry on. So much for wrong thinking that preceded wrong action.
The promised million more was also thought wrong - the state secretary cheered, this budget should above all give the authors in the Corona era more opportunities and income.
Sounds good but hasn't saved neither her, nor the filmmakers. Because what happened then - half of this million was already used up around February. The remaining funds for the application deadline in May were then also designed with a focus on substance development - even short memorandums were permitted, which were to be funded with 5,000 euros each. And then the exact same thing happened, what the ORF was confronted with in its long forgotten 8x45 campaign - an almost unmanageable number of submissions. The ORF had to deal with about 130 submissions back then, at the Austrian Film Institute there were said to be almost 300 in total (105 applications for “normal” substance developments, including those that used reference funds for this and 165 application proposals that were capped with 5,000 euros). The rejections were then justified with the wording that the Commission believes that the present material is not suitable as a promising basis for the further development of a cinema film and that, due to the enormous number of submissions, the project could therefore unfortunately not be given a priority.
Does this mean the selection committee of the Austrian Film Institute finally knows what promises to be a success and will finally increase the proportion of Austrian film?
As a filmmaker you are always looking for the guru who knows exactly what will be a success and what won't. The projects financed by this way are of course always the best, greatest, most promising, trend-setting, even simply epoch-making projects. You will never find out who failed on the cliffs of Spittelberg (where the Austrian Film Institute resides), and which minority has been funded (which is not surprising given the budget is too small).
Speaking of success, it is enough to study the cinema charts of the past few years on the Austrian Film Institute side.
Especially with what perseverance production companies and directors who produce one crowd-puller and festival favorite after the other are promoted and financed. Complaining is suppressed immediately, usually with the introduction, you are only mad because you are not being funded, or, you're tired of always having the same discussion. Especially about the decisions of the commission. This is understandable when you consider that, as already mentioned, the members of the Commission now seem to know what will be a success and what will not. Accordingly, the granting of funding is celebrated on social media as if one had been nominated for an Oscar. In view of such concentrated competence, it will only be a matter of time.
Then, exactly 33 of the 165 submitted exposes received funding (that's exactly 20%), 47 authors (some projects have 2 screenwriters) now receive 5,000 euros per project, of which, as soon as the contracts are finally made, around 4,000 euros can be requested. That's what remains when politics do something great to save the filmmakers. And if you don't freak out with enthusiasm, you simply haven't understood it. And if you can't get by with 4,000 euros from April to August and afterwards as long as you need to write, it's your own fault. Art has to be painful, artists can always do something else, or marry someone rich, or advertise, or gather donations for the Red Cross. It won't be easy regarding jobs in the catering trade at the moment, the unemployed waitresses and waiters are probably currently being offered training at the BFI, where they can learn how to make films.
I am just as confident about the program cinemas as I am about the additional funds for film funding.
Imagine: 500,000 euros, or in words, half a million. The question arises as to how many cinemas we can now divide that up. Think about it: on the website programmkino.at there are 16 program cinemas across Austria as participants for "die lange Nacht der Programmkinos". but I miss a number of cinemas in Vienna that I would actually have regarded as a program cinema. Let's say there are 20 cinemas - there will sure be more. According to Adam Riese (German "arithmetic master", who lived in the 15th century and whose book "Bill on the lines and feathers" into the 17th century, was considered the standard work) makes 25,000 euros per cinema, or probably less. That certainly covers the failures of the program cinemas, which like the film casino and the polyfilm or the votive cinema and the DeFrance and the film shop, are usually linked to a rental. They are probably now getting even more money than in normal operations and are now rehabilitating at the expense of the Republic. Yes, I know the truth hurts sometimes.
May I touch on the topic of film funding again.
As mentioned, there has been no budget adjustment, increase or something similar for almost 10 years. Even the director of the Austrian Film Insitute, who is known to be very, very careful, said that an increase should be at least a third more. So from 20 million, or 19.5 to now 30 million or a little less - does it matter how I calculate the third? At least twice the amount, as many filmmakers demand, would be mathematically necessary to compensate for the "non-increase" of recent years. Let's take an example from other European countries: Almost 6 million Danes endow the national film fund with around 70 million, in France the national film funding gets around one billion euros, and the regional pots are not even included. Hungary alone spends 40 million on incentive models that we can only dream of and whose introduction could also shatter in small-minded arguments within the film industry. For example, the Belgian tax shelter model, essentially a write-off option for taxpayers in Belgium who invest in film projects, is vehemently rejected. Although from the Belgian point of view it is a successful model and generates almost 200 million euros a year, which, minus the unfortunately very high ancillary costs, do not entirely reach the film industry. This has made Belgium a film country with an infrastructure of well-employed filmmakers. The criticism that was also voiced, 'well regarding the Corona shutdown that's not necessary', turned out to be wrong, because for the Brussels int. Film Festival, which takes place in September, the organizers invited to the coproduction forum in summer with an explicit reference to that Belgian tax model. Nevertheless, the model is called the tax avoidance model for rich lawyers and dentists in Austria, even high officials doubt that money would ever be gained here due to the lack of abundant profits from super-rich Austrians, and ultimately, according to the most important argument from the group of interest groups, this system only helps the producers who would get their money faster. But what do they do with it afterwards? Buy a sailing ship, or maybe invest it in film productions to keep filmmakers busy?
The rejectors of the tax shelter model prefer the tax credit model, tax discount or re-paid - essentially also an incentive model, but you need money for this.
From the ÖFI, for example, or from the ORF coming from the film and television agreement, but this source, as is well known, only works with a positive Austrian Film Institute. Tax credit models are available in the surrounding area of our Alpine Republic: from the Czech Republic to Hungary to Italy and not infrequently, film productions carry Austrian tax and sender money there because, firstly, they get about 30% of every euro back that they spent there as a discount or credit, or the service producer and because, like in the Czech Republic and Hungary, the general price level is still significantly lower than ours. "Narcissus and Goldmund" or "Freud" were filmed in the Czech Republic for this reason. Strictly speaking, the FISA would be such a model. An additional incentive model could also be hooked in there, it is said by the officials of the film industry. The fact that a draft in spring 2019 only provides for a 25% tax credit makes the good intentions less good again - because that is significantly less than all other models and does not even compensate for the general price and wage level. And, as mentioned, it would be a supplement, but not an alternative to the Austrian Film Institute. And that seems to be urgently needed.
Because, and now it gets very delicate, the decisions and decision-making mechanisms of the funding can and have to be questioned.
The Austrian Film Institute is not responsible for the budgets and the extra million, not even for its guidelines and for the terms and conditions under which the plant operates. But the president of aafp, Alexander Glehr, is not without reason arguing for an artistic director model, i.e. an artistic director or director who decides alone. Maybe with an advisory board and not over the entire budget, but, according to Glehr, someone should be responsible. And the process would also be negotiable, because at the moment there is no use in following the tip submitted to the rejection, because the next commission will of course have a whole different opinion. More transparency would also be desirable, i.e. knowing what was funded, what was rejected and more transparent decision-making mechanisms with understandable reasons. At the moment the reasons for why something has not been funded are communicated only verbally by the Wiener Fond, thus probably because they cannot be pinned down. The visible efforts of the institutions fail because of the requirements and, once again, the budget.
One more thing, the decisions made by the sponsors have a major issue overall.
And a recognizable one. For my master's thesis, I evaluated the published funding reports from the Austrian Film Institute which have recorded all film funding in Austria since 2014 and published it as an Excel file. This includes cinema film as well as television film, federal and state funding, fictional cinema and television, as well as series and documentaries, both for cinema and for TV. The result in sober numbers: the almost lonely leaders are not unexpected: SATEL and DOR-Film. The SATEL only with TV productions, which is known to no longer have an Austrian owner, and the DOR, almost exclusively with cinema productions. Between 2014 and 2018, more recent data was not available, the two manufacturers each generated around 24 million euros in funding (no production volume). The second-tier, EPO-Film and Nowotny & Nowotny (today Film AG) each generated around 16 million in funding, followed by Allegro-Film with just under 15 million, then Mona Film with 11 million and all others with less than 10 million euros . There is no explanation for this, other than that the manufacturers in the front places are simply more experienced and therefore have better projects, which would conversely mean that the others are simply too stupid. Given the effort involved, it also seems unlikely that the “bigs” submit more and therefore the hit rate is better - unless there are manufacturers who can afford to write a letter that only says: we want to do it and we assure that we can. Kind regards ….
Addendum to statistics - it also agrees with the gender report, because sorted by directors, 5 male directors are needed, before Maria Kreutzer, the first director, appears in the statistics.
Without budget increases, without alternative and / or supplementary funding models, in short without significantly more money for Austrian film, it will no longer be possible. However, since the film, unlike the Salzburg Festival, does not offer politics a stage, the economy has no way of projecting its financial interests (cultural investment is tax avoidance with the side effect of getting applause) and only a few in this country have understood that filmmaking nowadays makes a significant contribution to the image that others have from us, and I personally am too pessimistic about this whole situation.