Film co-production is popular around the world. Why don’t things work out for us?
The last Odessa International Film Festival was not only about showing the newest films. I sincerely thank the organizers for initiating the so-called Film Industry Office, a dedicated section as part of the event aimed at supporting and developing Ukrainian film projects and the film industry in general.
Particularly important was the panel discussion on the 'theory and practice' of co-producing films using the example of countries with which Ukraine has signed co-production agreements, namely France, Israel and Canada. In essence, subject matter experts told Ukrainian filmmakers how to get into international co-production and do it as effectively as possible.
Such attempts can be traced back to 2013, when the world saw the film “Paradzhanov” directed by Serge Avedikyan and Elena Fetisova. The film is the result of joint work of Ukraine, France, Georgia and Armenia. The product turned out to be so high quality that Ukrainian Oscar committee nominated it for the “Best Foreign Language Film”.
Unfortunately, it is still not often that you see such a successful cooperation between Israeli and Ukrainian filmmakers and producers. Although this shouldn’t be the case for at least several years now.
Let me explain what I meant by the previous statement: since co-productions require cross-border communication and support, state intervention in these processes is logical and even desirable. Thus, on December 22, 2015, the government of Israel and the Ukrainian Cabinet of Ministers signed an agreement on co-production of films and cooperation in the sphere of cinematography (Ukraine ratified the document on May 13, 2017).
What are the benefits of the agreement? Firstly, it declares privileges from both countries (Art. 2(2)). Secondly, it creates more opportunities for supporting film projects in co-producing countries, such as the import and export of equipment necessary for co-production, or permission for creative and technical personnel to enter and stay in their country (Art. 8).
Importantly, this agreement (and similarly with Canada and France) is much more flexible than the European Convention on Cinematographic Co-Production. After all, it includes broader areas for cooperation that can receive support from the state. And it not only concerns film production, but also (see Art. 14):
- participation in film festivals held in both countries and other international events, as well as the organization of "Film Weeks/Days"
- filmmaking training
- improving specialized basic and higher education, and enhancing the skills of writers and film professionals
- exchange of data, materials, know-how, experience and expertise, including organization of training and internship programs and courses, seminars, conferences, workshops and participation in international events.
Did we see a stunning takeoff of Israeli-Ukrainian co-production after that? No.
Since 2017, there haven’t been much cooperation between filmmakers of both countries. The reasons behind that can be that Israeli filmmakers have little to no knowledge about the possibilities the agreement gives them and the process for applying to the relevant state authorities in Ukraine can be quite tricky, despite the fact there’s high demand for filming in Ukrainian locations or by Ukrainian teams. Or perhaps they find it hard to pick reliable local co-production partners.
A threefold cord is not quickly broken
Over the past few months, Ukrainian cinemas have been in the heat of running all the foreign films that they accumulated during the COVID year of 2020-2021. It is not hard to guess that the film industry is rapidly recovering.
Using joint resources is important to Ukrainian filmmakers, who haven’t yet fully experienced the joys of collaborating with Israel, but also to Israeli filmmakers, who also find it hard to make movies alone and who have had a critical need for expanding their audiences from the onset of film production in the country.
And while the strength of the Israeli film business is its financial stability, the ability to write scripts and successfully sell them to the world's giants, the Ukrainian film business can offer one-of-a-kind locations (there is even a separate website for those called Locations,) that attract celebrities the caliber of Jean-Claude Van Damme (e.g. "The Last Mercenary", 2021) and a bustling ecosystem of competitive and professional outsourcers who are capable of selecting technical base, writing scripts, and arranging casting if necessary.
Some of Ukraine’s co-produced features even receive high critical acclaim: for example, “Censor”, a film about the Odessa women’s colony, co-produced by Ukraine, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, received the Horizon Award for Best Screenplay at the 78th Venice Film Festival.
Since parliament passing on September 20, 2019, and President Zelenski’s signing on October 16 the law supporting foreign filmmakers, international coproduction received an additional incentive in the form of the so-called “cash rebate” that had been increased since 2017.
Now, foreign film producers who decide to shoot a film in Ukraine will be able to get a partial refund of 25% of qualified costs + 5% if they use the work of Ukrainian authors or devote the film to Ukraine itself. And there are some good news here: there are already film companies that have applied for the cash rebate. Hopefully, we will soon hear about the first successful payouts.
Overall, the situation is as follows: the global movie business, which pinned its hopes on mass vaccination against COVID-19 and lifting of quarantines, is coming back to life. Filmmakers are joining forces to hedge risks and create a product that amazes and makes people forget about Zoom and return to cinemas.
But the co-production of films by Ukraine and Israel is on a standstill. Even despite attempts by the State Film Agency that actively collects opinions and recommendations from market players to find the best way to make the whole thing work. Business, too, should not remain on the sidelines and contribute to improving the mechanism.
Ukrainian film industry is highly interested in co-producing with foreigners. But what should it do to attract the attention of Israeli and other counterparts?
First, think globally: if you look for co-production partners even before the start of shooting, they will definitely show up (consequently, it's hard to find something you're not looking for).
Secondly, think creatively: collaboration not only gives you a shared product, but helps you develop expertise and experience.
Thirdly, think business: study the demands of foreign colleagues, form your own strong offers, learn how to sell and buy. The first successful cases are sure to increase the momentum.
After all, there is one country where the film business does not necessarily require collaboration, and that’s the United States. While film industries of such relatively ‘small’ states like Israel and Ukraine is ‘doomed’ to co-production. Which means both parties should work on improving cooperation and remember that it is easy to move mountains together, let alone work on joint projects.
Don't know where to start? Start looking for partners.
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