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Slovak cinema - gone with the wind?

THE PAST decade may have been the worst in the history of Slovak cinema. Only around 2 percent of box office tickets sold in Slovak cinemas were for Slovak films. That is well below the European average of 20 percent that goes to domestic films. US films take the bulk of filmgoers' money: around 60 percent.
"The most popular film in Slovakia in 2002 was the inevitable Harry Potter, followed by Lord of the Rings," notes Susan Newman-Baudais of the European Audiovisual Observatory.

THE PAST decade may have been the worst in the history of Slovak cinema. Only around 2 percent of box office tickets sold in Slovak cinemas were for Slovak films. That is well below the European average of 20 percent that goes to domestic films. US films take the bulk of filmgoers' money: around 60 percent.

"The most popular film in Slovakia in 2002 was the inevitable Harry Potter, followed by Lord of the Rings," notes Susan Newman-Baudais of the European Audiovisual Observatory.

She points out that in 2002, only 5 Slovak films, compared to 103 from the US and 61 non-Slovak European new releases, hit Slovak screens. In the Czech Republic, 15 to 20 films are produced each year, and in Hungary, around 20 new films.

Film director Martin Šulík says the situation is catastrophic. Is there still a Slovak film industry?

"I'm not sure. There are hardly any new feature-length fiction films. Almost every Slovak film in the last ten years was a coproduction with television or with foreign producers."

Šulík bemoans the fact that Slovak television channels buy little or no home films.

"The government apparently doesn't like the film industry. There's very little money."

He remembers the communist era, "when we produced around 12 or 13 films per year for the cinema. On top of that, there were about 20 new films for television."

Today, Šulík most often works abroad. He is now concentrating on a new feature-length film in the Czech Republic.

"We have a lot of talented people here, but there's no work in Slovakia," he added.

Since January 2003, Slovakia has been getting more European help in promoting its cinema. The main fund source is the European Union's Media Programme, which started in January 2001, and only has a total of €26 million for the entire European film industry. On January 1, 2003, one year after six other candidate countries, Slovakia entered the programme.

Slovak cinema professionals are now able to use the Media Programme to develop, distribute, and promote their work, as well as for training. Slovakia pays €160,000 per year to participate in the Media Programme, with half of this sum coming from the EU's Phare scheme.

The Bratislava International Film Festival (taking place from November 28 to December 6) was one of a select few to be funded under the scheme, with a grant of €15,000. The Trenčianske Teplice Art Film Festival in June 2003 received €10,000.

Slovakia participates in other strategic EU plans, such as CinEdays, which promotes the image of European cinema.

"We have to encourage young people to think European cinema is cool," says the European Commissioner for Culture and Audiovisual Media, Viviane Reding.

The CinEdays event, backed by schools, TV channels, cinemas, and film libraries around Slovakia and Europe, gave thousands of young Slovaks the opportunity to see both old and new European classics this year.

"Our young people's senses are dulled by the huge promotional and marketing campaigns that drive US blockbusters," says Reding. "No one is teaching them about the importance of seeing our films."

CinEdays ended on October 24. Slovak organisers compiled a 28-film programme, mostly screened in two Bratislava cinemas, Tatra and Galéria filmclub. Film clubs and cinemas participated in other towns, including Banská Bystrica, Martin, Prešov, Trnava, Poprad and Galanta.

Film quotas may be another way to protect Slovak cinema. With Slovak films gaining just a few percent of the market share during most years, economists are beginning to argue that Hollywood has a dominant and distorted market position. Slovak films in Slovakia are not given a chance due to bad screening times and a lack of money to distribute and market the films in the manner of US blockbusters.

Director Šulík definitely wants to see the Slovak government do more. The government is currently ironing out a law that may see 20 percent of a tax on Slovak television viewers go to producing and promoting the film industry.

"I'm not sure if it will go through. I hope so for Slovak film culture," says Šulík.

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