Once a month, Eriks Baltgalvis, a reclusive Latvian ex-sailor, undergoes the hassle of crossing the border to pick up his Estonian pension. The subject of Riga, Latvia-based Film Studio AVE’s doc Borderland, Baltgalvis has witnessed a lot, including World War II and Soviet rule. Now, his own story enters the history books as Borderland competes to become one of the first docs from an East European doc-maker to secure the financial support of the Media Plus program, the European Union’s lifeline to the continent’s audiovisual industry.
Set up in 2000 to run five years with a purse of 400 million euros (US$467 million), Plus supports prodcos through grants and loans for the development, production and distribution of made-in-Europe television programs and theatrical films. Partly to help accommodate the increased demand resulting from the eastward expansion in 2004, the EU voted in April to extend the program by one year, to the end of 2006, and increase its budget by 35.6 million euros ($41.6 million). A new fund will commence in 2007.
Next year sees the expansion of the EU to 25 members from a core of 15 (see sidebar); however, due to a quirk of international relations, producers from an accession country such as Latvia have been eligible for funding since the month their country signed on to Plus; all countries except Hungary have joined since mid-2002. Applications from these states have so far been sparse, but as awareness spreads, more East European producers will join the queue.
Borderland producer Valdis Celmins is one of just two Latvian doc-makers to apply already. He is keeping his fingers crossed in the hope of receiving a 10,000 euros ($12,000) grant for his one-hour, 65,000 ($76,000) euros one-off. Indie doc-makers within the former EU, on the other hand, face increased competition for Media Plus funding. ‘The cake isn’t getting any bigger, but we have more people sharing it,’ says Mathieu Béjot, executive director of Paris-based distrib trade association TV France International. This fact isn’t lost on the French doc community, he adds, although it is too early to say what the fallout might be.
Although the adjustment of Media Plus’s budget is meant to help level the imbalance between the eu’s have and have-not countries, inequalities will remain, says Agnieszka Moody, the director of Media Desk U.K. (the program’s London satellite office), as there are no quotas of any kind.
In a bid to evenly spread its money around, Plus assigns point scores to applications on the basis of several criteria, including the number of broadcasters in different regions attached to a proposal; the number of linguistic territories covered by the production and/or distribution plan; whether an international distrib is on board; how much funding
has been secured; and the prodco’s own track record. Importantly, applications from low-capacity countries are awarded additional points. ‘The amount of points [needed] is always in relation to the strength and volume of the applications received for a particular deadline,’ Moody says. In other words, luck can be a crucial determining factor.
Thus far, it looks like the program’s judges give significant bonus points to applications from accession countries. For example, Latvia’s first two submissions, made in late 2002, both won grants. However, trying to forecast how much financing might be awarded to doc projects in the new territories on the basis of past trends is almost impossible, since Media Plus hands out grants via two main envelopes: development and distribution, which have multiple – and staggered – deadlines. And, Media Plus doesn’t keep centralized lists of results.
Moody says that as a rule of thumb, roughly 60% of the 17.5 million euros ($20.4 million) Plus hands out annually is funneled through the distribution envelope. In one application period that closed in February, a total of 1.1 million euros ($1.3 million) was awarded to 13 factual proposals from five countries – none in Eastern Europe. Another 3 million euros ($3.5 million) went to 10 animated and fiction projects.