Small steps

At the presentation of the Austrian Film Prize at the end of January in the Vienna City Hall, the Mayor of Vienna, Michael Ludwig, surprised the audience with a promise to support filmmakers. MEDIA BIZ followed up and Wolfgang Ritzberger met with city councillor for culture Veronica Kaup-Hasler for a talk.

Blog  Interview 

Politics  Film 

At the award ceremony of the Austrian Film Prize at the end of January in the Vienna City Hall, the Mayor of Vienna, Michael Ludwig, surprised the audience with a promise to support filmmakers. MEDIA BIZ dug deeper, and Wolfgang Ritzberger met with the city councillor for culture, Veronica Kaup-Hasler, and had a talk.


In the following small talk, numerous guests were enthusiastic – it did sound promising – didn’t it? Our interview request was answered by the office of the City Councillor for Culture, Veronica Kaup-Hasler, who has been in office since May 2018. The city hall really is impressive. Kaup-Haslers’ office is located on the same floor where the Mayor himself resides, and is that big, several apartments from one of the municipal buildings of “red Vienna”, such as the Karl-Marx-Hof, would easily fit into it. 

Veronica Kaup-Hasler welcomes me personally and I experience her exactly as she is often described: charming, with a sense of art and, if something is important to her, the appointment secretary has a lot to do. 


In this case, the interview took a lot longer than planned, and the colleague from the secretary’s office had to intervene several times. Kaup-Hasler is, as she herself emphasizes, not an artist, but has always been active in a leading position in management. First as a dramatic advisor in Basel and at the “Wiener Festwochen”, and later as the artistic assistant of the theatre director Luc Bondy. In 2004 she was appointed as the artistic director of “steirischer Herbst. With about 12 years in this position, she was the longest serving managing director, under her leadership the “steirischer Herbst” has also sought international cooperation outside of Styria.


With "Die Kinder der Toten", an artistic adaptation of Elfriede Jelinek's play by the same name of a theatre group from the USA, she not only realised the largest project of "steirischer Herbst", but also achieved international attention. The Super 8 film resulting from the performance was awarded the Prize of International Critics at this year's Berlin Film Festival.


The largest construction site she is currently confronted with in Vienna as a cultural city councillor is the chronically underfunded Volkstheater. Not only the building itself is in need of renovation, but also the concept of the theatre, which will not have an easy time positioning itself next to the Burgtheater under Martin Kusej, who will take up his directorship autumn 2019. Kaup-Hasler showed original and unusual approaches when she announced last year that she would be available daily at 8 a.m. in Café Eiles for discussions about the Volkstheater. In an interview in December, she mentioned that even the former director Emmy Werner had come and advocated a very radical concept. Regarding the subject “film” her boss’ words came just at the right moment; just a few days later she stated at the Vienna Film Commission that she would like to do more, but to make this work, the federal government would have to play along. But she had already taken a specific measure back then: The original initial condition for a grant from the Vienna Film Fund, to have produced a film of similar size in the last three years, has disappeared from the guidelines.


“Seen from the outside, one might say that the Vienna Film Fund is the largest regional location funding body. What could be improved?”


Veronica Kaup-Hasler: “There is always the possibility of making structural improvements. The Mayor has made a commitment to further strengthen Vienna as a film location out of great enthusiasm and because of the attitude of the filmmakers at the Film Award. What counts is relying on our strengths – the artistic signature and the perspective of film in all its diversity. Movies from Kurt Krenn to Peter Kubelka have achieved international fame. We’ve got a strong tradition of experimental film and a strong auteur cinema e.g.: Michael Haneke, Ulrich Seidl, Veronika Franz and Jessica Hausner to Tizza Covi and Rainer Frimmel, Nikolaus Geyrhalter and many others. Documentary films hold a great power as well. This is a very big asset and we have to preserve it. In any case, I’m fighting for a higher budget and depending on how much we will be granted, it will of course be reflected in film funding."


“For 2019 you have pushed through a budget increase of more than 30 million in the cultural sector of Vienna. However, a large part of this went to the Wien Museum.”


“It was around 35 million, but I did not have to push through the increase, as 28 million had already been earmarked for the renovation of the Wien Museum. In the end, it was several million more that we could spend this year.”


“But not even ten percent from it has reached the film industry.”


“We have increased the small film subsidy and will tackle the location funding for cinemas. Like a doctor, you first have to get an overall picture, look at the cultural landscape, see where the fire is most acute, where urgent renovations are first needed. And the cultural landscape is vast, in my view too little has been done for too long. There are a lot of things to do at first. But I hope that this path of consolidation will work out - after all, we have to catch up in the end.”


“You're talking about a hot issue. After all, it is also a political decision where to start the redevelopment, at the free groups or the big theatres ...”


“There are provisions in collective agreements which are prescribed by law. This means we are bound to this law.”


“The film has those too. It's a political decision: Is a certain form of the performing arts, theatre, visual arts, or is a certain form of film not taking place? Wherever tax money is involved, it is controlled and, at least on a large scale, payment under a collective agreement should be obligatory.”


“The film industry is structured quite different than the free sector. During the many conversations I had with people of the film industry, many of them - especially in the documentary sector, but also in other areas - said that it was almost an obstacle for them not to be able to realize smaller projects. If they had to pay for it regularly, it would no longer be possible. One has to gradually take a closer look at what this means in the various artistic fields, but also in the various cinematographic forms of expression. What does fair payment mean, what does it mean in exact terms to create good working conditions? I see a need for equipment for films of medium size, which are probably often very difficult to finance.”


“Nevertheless, it remains a political decision as to what should be tackled first. And if I understand you correctly, you want to be selective in your support for films. So, all films are different?”


“Films that are also supported by the federal government and the ORF have less problems. The Austrian film and television agreement therefore is important. But it is also about showing Austrian films not only at 2 a.m. but in the main programme so that they can reach an audience.”


“The filmmakers you mentioned at the beginning of your speech don’t perform that well regarding the cinema and would certainly be seen as quota killers on television. Which is probably also due to the nature of their films.”


“Film is also an art form that has to prove itself. But I believe that cinematic art is as well a question of promotion. At the same time, we have outstanding documentaries that reach a broad audience. For example: Nikolaus Geyrhalter, Michael Glawogger or Georg Riha with his bird's-eye views and many others. We have a large, broad setting, take the Murnberger Haas films, with great Austrian content, great actors who appeal to the masses and are economically successful.”


“Regarding the documentaries, however, one should think about whether one or the other should have been made by public television. You mention a lot of filmmakers who are located in the arthouse sector. But not even the Murnberger films mentioned or the crowd puller Josef Hader earn the production costs even approximately in the exploitation. Which movies does the former director of "Steirischer Herbst" watch?”


“I'm a great cineaste - and I've only picked out a few that are present to me right now. (If you give me some time, I can think of many more that are important to me). But one of the questions is, what should be promoted in principle? Should the promotion be made depending on the quantifiability by a population or should be promoted what has a certain necessity? And isn't the question of distribution yet another? I would like to have the broadest cinematic oeuvre possible, that’s very important to me. I don't presume to always know what the outcome will be. I think that you have to invest more time in the preliminary work, before the shooting starts. But if we only applied the quantifying model, the greatest films in the history of film would probably not exist. We wouldn't have Agnes Varda, we wouldn't have so many filmmakers if we had been guided solely by broad taste.

On the other hand, prizes were the first way to bring completely unknown filmmakers to public attention. And it is also very important to tell important stories with running pictures. Film is also an art form, that’s something I am committed to. I therefore think it's important to create the best conditions possible for the film industry. But there are very different interests regarding this topic. We promote, also because we need a larger audience. We have to create that.”


“Is there an Austrian film that has had it easy commercially?”


“The "Wild Mouse" would be one example. But we're not in America. Only a gigantic film industry has managed to cover the costs several times. But that doesn’t mean that they finance themselves. I want to find the fairest way possible in a very difficult mixture of interests, to provide the most uncorrupted view possible of a landscape with all its sensitivities. The most important thing at the moment is actually permanent talks in order to define the needs first and to find out where it is structurally particularly urgent to change something as fast as possible. Where can I make a difference quickly, e.g. this regulation in the guidelines of the film fund, whose change has made a lot easier for many people.”


“As far as support and decision-making mechanisms are concerned, should these decisions be taken from within the industry?”


“I don’t originate from the film industry, but I do try to listen, to talk to a wide variety of experts from the field, in order to get an idea of this big puzzle, which is very erratic and also not always easy to put together. For certain areas of evaluation, I would like to involve the filmmakers, the actors in the cultural field, to let them have a say in their own regulatory decisions. Qualities can be measured by the parameters that apply to a particular field, documentary film for example. With experimental film art, there are quite different parameters. We stand by the fact that there must also be genres that would hardly stand a chance on ORF at 2 am, for example, but with tougher selection criteria. For that, however, you have to reserve budgets, mark out different terrains in the film and define these rules in a joint dialogue. This has to be explored step by step and the improvements that can be achieved have to be weighed up again and again. - A long process. I also think it is important to consider support mechanisms and models in other countries, also in terms of the level of equipment, that could serve as examples for us.”


“At present, however, due to the number of applications for funding and the size of budgets, only a few projects can be funded, and even experienced filmmakers speak of a lottery system.”


“That's why I've spoken out in favour of location funding, because I think films must be shown. In the future we will have to say goodbye to the idea that cinemas are profitable entertainment companies. But I think they are places of education. Basically, we should think of cinemas as we think of museums. Cinemas are increasingly becoming museums of the moving image and are places of communication of something that is totally lost in times of streaming culture. Above all, we have to support cinemas that want something programmatically, so that films can be shown again.”


“The cinemas are groaning, even on the Diagonale this was a focal point.”


“In Vienna I’m planning to add something to it, a drop in the ocean. I'm the only one who wants to push this forward, but for me it's an important adjustment that makes more distribution possible. This would be my goal. If I know how high the budget will be, I am sure that a part of it will go to locations and mediation work. 30 years ago, it was enough if a cinema offered a great programme. This analog community experience, the sharing of a dark room, is the real Eros of cinema. It must be sparkling again. The operators of cinemas have to work harder on the audience with creative ideas if the cinema wants to survive.”


“The Vienna Film Commission needs incentives, perhaps tied to a points system, where the awarding of incentives can be as unbureaucratic as possible. Is that something you could imagine?”


“Personally, I think these models would be useful. Vienna needs them, because we would benefit of them. But there is still a long way to go before this becomes a viable proposition. Since this is primarily a matter of tax incentives, it is basically up to the federal government.”


“The Schlosshotel Orth, which, as we all know, does not exist in this form, is visited by a lot of tourists. As well as the "Sound-of-Music-Tours", where there is actually nothing to see. Is it really that difficult to convince someone that something like this has an impact on Vienna?”


“The examples are not that fitting, since they are solitaires, of which there are few other examples in the landscape. The "Third Man" is a good example of this, but we know that not every film shot in Vienna is the "Third Man". But it does illustrate this flow of money, that can be shown. I will never get tired of conveying this, since a strong film location ultimately brings the Viennese film industry reputation, money and jobs.”


“David Mamet always tells his students: "Be aware of your colleagues". And justifies it like this: Only very few of you will enter the industry, the rest will finish their studies and then go into so-called management and decide whether the few artists are allowed to earn money. Actually, the career that you have also taken. Do we have too few practitioners from the industry for such positions?”


“I was always able to identify qualities quite well and then create the right formats and the right conditions. And I can accompany you well. I never worked as an artist myself. For me, curating is a profession in the sense of selecting, accompanying and nurturing. There's a big difference between being able to raise funds, dealing with staff, or just being committed to your own art. These are different professional fields. And I have the feeling that with my attitude and expertise I can get ahead, I make good politics. And I am very fact oriented. It's just that sometimes it's way too much, and I want to make wise decisions.