by Fabien Lemercier
July 10, 2006
Cineuropa: What is your view on the revival in Hungarian cinema?
Joël Chapron: The Film Law has allowed for an increase in services, and the Hungarians have been first in line to take advantage of this much talked-about delocalisation, which the French have been trying to resist. In the past, Hungary has lost out to Romania and Bulgaria. Ten years ago, when the French, English, Germans and Americans began looking for cheaper locations, they started with the most economically developed countries in Eastern Europe, such as Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary. However, economically more developed translates into a higher standard of living, thus it is more expensive to film in Poland, the Czech Republic and Hungary than in Romania and Bulgaria. For the latter two countries, who will soon be members of the European Union, no visas are required and a film production industry with very good technicians exists. In an attempt to address this, Hungarians have had to come up with a solution to attract foreign productions (Munich by Spielberg, for example) and have introduced this law whose main objective is to increase the number of foreign productions.
However, from the time when a film starts to make money, a certain sum remains in the circuit which is used to finance the production of local films. Domestic productions – whose volume is generally quite low (26 features in 2006) – have increased, and are beginning to pay off financially, which was not the case in the past. Hungarians – traditionally not very keen fans of their own films – are increasingly choosing to watch local titles. In the past 15 years, among the Eastern European countries, Hungarian films have been the most represented at the Cannes Film Festival after Russian films, and the second most popular in French cinemas with an increase this year of two films in the first six months (District and Fateless), along with Kontroll opening on July 5, Taxidermia on August 23, and Johanna scheduled for release in the second semester. It is necessary to go back as far as 1993 – when four Hungarian films were released in France – to see a similar performance.
How is French cinema positioned on the Hungarian market?
With 6% of the market, French films are the second most popular films shown in Hungary after US productions and are vying for second place with domestic films, which are currently gaining in popularity. Even if the best years for French films in Hungary were 2003 and 2004, they also performed very well in 2005 with the release of 19 French language films, and 13 French films in a foreign language.
It seems as if the work of Unifrance in Hungary over recent years is paying dividends, with eight Hungarian distributors buying French films in the first quarter of 2006 and six features released so far this year. Comedies are the most popular genre of films, as French cinema still benefits from its historical image of mass appeal, and Hungarian cinemagoers were brought up with Louis de Funès and Pierre Richard, like most filmgoers in the former Communist bloc.
What is the importance of French films released in Hungary?
”Hungarian distributors are now pressing for French films to be released in combinations of a higher number of prints. Currently, a major French feature is released on 25 to 30 prints, which is a lot for a small country of 10 million. And one French film in two is released in theatres outside Budapest. In fact, once there are more than five prints, the film is released in the rest of the country. Last year, 13 of the 19 French language features distributed were released on more than five prints, thus French films are being screened in half of the country. The short term outlook is good, with more than half of the ten films programmed this year at the French Film Festival in Budapest scheduled for release by this summer.”