East Europe is new Mecca for movie business

Bucharest, February 7:

A winning combination of scenic locales, low costs and budding filmmakers has turned around the moribu-nd movie business in central and eastern Europe wh-ich has emerged as the new global production location.

The movie industry acr-oss the region was almost wiped out by the collapse of communism 16 years ago. With state finances drying up and faced with a deluge of Hollywood films, the industry battled to find a new footing. But now an almost unlimited range of locations and low costs has helped to turn the region into one of the most fa-voured destinations for the global movie business. EU membership has also reshaped financing of filmmaking.

With labour costs in Romania, for example, about 80 per cent of what they are in many nations, the movie business’ relentless search for cheaper production sites means that it has been zeroing in on these countries in recent years. As a result, this has turned parts of the region into backdrops for films ranging from World War II action dramas, through to the American Civil War, Dickensian England and 1970s Germany.

Renowned Hollywood director Francis Ford Coppola has recently been filming his new movie ‘Youth Without Youth’ in both Romania and Bulgaria. And America’s king of creep David Lynch has been on location in Poland to shoot his latest movie, ‘Inland Empire’.

Once a showcase for films from this region during the communist era, the Berlin Film Festival has in recent years also helped to charter the renaissance of movie making in countries such as Russia, Hungary, Romania and Poland.

This year’s festival, one of the most prestigious events on the international movie calendar, will show the first Bosnia-Herzegovina movie to be competing at a major film festival. The movie, ‘Grbavica’ — called after a settlement in Sarajevo which was occupied by Bosnian Serb forces in the 1992-1995 war in Bosnia-Herzegovina — illustrates the suffering of a Bosnian Muslim woman who gives birth to a child after being raped by a soldier.

“When I first met a group of young girls from eastern Bosnia, 14-and 15-year-olds, and when I heard what happened to them, I was so shocked and afraid,” said Jasmila Zbanic, the film’s director. Also included in this year’s line up of festival films from these states are Romanian director Tudor Giurgiu’s ‘Legaturi bolnavicioase’ (Love Sick), which is a coming-to-age story about three young people.

Famed Polish director Feliks Falk’s ‘Komornik’ (The Collector), which tells the story of a debt collector, has also been selected for the festival as also Latvian director Laila Pakalnina’s short film ‘Udens’ (Water). Leading Polish cinematographer Janusz Kaminski has been selected to join this year’s Berlinale jury. A two-time Oscar-winner, Kaminski’s list of credits includes ‘Schindler’s List’, ‘Amistad’, ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and ‘War of the Worlds’. He also did the camerawork on Steven Spielberg’s latest work, ‘Munich’.

However, one of the most remarkable turnarounds in Eastern European cinema has been in Russia where the industry struggled to survive the nation’s transition to a market economy and to establish a new role in the Hollywood-driven post-Soviet cinematic revolution. But now as a new sense of prosperity takes hold, millions of Russians have been filing into cinemas across the country to see their homegrown blockbusters. In 2005, box office returns for Russia and Ukraine were $349 million, of which $100 million came from Russian films.