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Dutch Funders Double Down on Support for Distribution and Co-Producers

As The Netherlands, under lockdown, celebrated the first half of 50th International Film Festival Rotterdam’s online, the physical half – set to take place in June with real audiences, panels and talks without Zoom links attached – still feels like a long way off.

Meanwhile, the industry is hopeful that the swift and pragmatic measures taken by its national funding agency, The Netherlands Film Fund, will be enough to see it through until the end of this year.

In January, the fund, headed by former IFFR director Bero Beyer, confirmed €30 million ($36.1 million) in new government support – double the amount that was available last year – to help the industry ride through its third national lockdown and beyond.

According to Beyer, most of last year’s efforts went into maintaining a certain level of production once restrictions were lifted in June: a national protocol for safety on film sets was devised along with extra funding to support its implementation.

In lieu of a national film insurance scheme the fund also offered its own pandemic guarantee facility, which it is continuing to provide this year.

This guarantee also extends to Dutch production companies involved as partners in co-productions, and was used last year on Floor van der Meulen’s Dutch/Italian Slovenian feature “Pink Moon,” when it was forced to shut down, although was up-and-running again by autumn.

New funding has also been made available to fast-turnaround projects – which were open to all and included Lockdown Cinema – an initiative that challenged filmmakers to make their own pandemic-related shorts and features.

Another initiative, Musical Mayday, is now calling for shorts and features that celebrate the musicality of cinema, while more development money is on hand for those not currently involved with any Film Fund supported projects.

Beyer says that the fund’s current efforts also include a focus on international co-productions – which, due to their multiple locations and funding stipulations, are proving a headache for producers.

Dutch indie Kepler Film – whose first-of-its-kind co-production with the Dutch Caribbean Island of Curaçao “Bulado” is this year’s Dutch Oscar entry – is currently juggling a number of other co-productions and minority productions with other territories.

Set up five years ago by Derk-Jan Warrink and Koji Nelissen – Kepler was the Dutch partner on “Pink Moon” and is a minority co-producer on Finland’s “The Woodcutter’s Story” – the debut feature of Finnish poet Mikko Myllylahti.

The Finnish crew in the latter production is currently in quarantine and Warrink describes the situation as “challenging”.

“For us, shooting films [in Holland] and development are not a big issue. More challenging are the co pros with different territories in different lockdowns and different Covid-related production protocols.”

Beyer predicts that there will be fewer co-productions or ones with considerably reduced budgets over the next couple of years, as they grapple with new Covid realities, but the fund is hoping to provide support for at least “three or four countries per year,” he says.

The fund is also encouraging pan-European agreements with other national funders to exercise looser stipulations on expenditure obligations and is in talks with its close allies in Belgium and Luxemburg.

“Most corona measures have been dealt with locally but it’s about time we came to a European view – if we forget about minority co-pros we are not doing a kind service to the sector,” Beyer adds.

New Dutch Talent

Until the pandemic hit, Dutch cinema admissions were holding strong in the first quarter of 2020, according to Ido Abram, director of SeeNL (formerly Eye International) who runs the Film Fund and Eye Film institute-supported body responsible for promoting Dutch films at home and abroad.

The champion of Dutch filmmakers name checks just some of his nation’s hot new talents including Isabel Lamberti, whose “Last Days of Spring” played at San Sebastian last year, and Shariff Korver, whose “Do Not Hesitate” was picked up by September Films for distribution in Benelux, and is set to hit the festival circuit, with TrustNordisk handling international sales.

There is also Jim Taihuttu, director of “Wolf,” whose new war film “The East” tells the story of the Indonesian war of independence; and Tim Leyendekker whose sophomore feature “Feast” ran in the Tiger competition at this week’s IFFR.

“We would have had more films in Cannes last year, but it only continued in the online way; and for a lot of Dutch films the competition is seriously fierce – the bigger art house countries tend to get priority in festivals that continue to take place, there’s lots of talent but we need the platforms,” he says.

And in 2021 distribution of films is the big issue. Even films that were lucky enough to receive a local theatrical release in between lockdowns were subject to restrictions: a new 30-seat rule (depending on the size of the venue) was imposed, which restricted admission sales and disproportionately affected art-house cinemas.

Eché Janga’s “Bulado” was subjected to the 30-seat rule on its local release last autumn, but nonetheless managed to achieve 35,000 cinema admissions – a figure which, given the circumstances, Kepler appears happy with.

“Clearly it would be more in an average year; it was also picked up by Netflix, which will release it in March, and that’s helped fill the gap we couldn’t fill through theatrical,” says Nelissen.

What Kepler appears more concerned about is the logjam of theatrical releases that currently have December 2021 marked as their release date.

“It’s getting tricky: titles jump around all the time and there are so many big films coming out,” says Warrink, noting that one of Kepler’s own minority copros, the Swedish film “I Am Zlatan,” has already postponed release three times.

Distribution support

It’s a situation that Beyer is keenly aware of and the fund is talking with distributors and cinema chains about jointly supporting a 2021 release strategy. “We need to be very smart with the way we present these films when they open fully,” he adds.

An early pilot strategy was formulated last December, ahead of the country’s biggest budget theatrical release in 15 years: “The Forgotten Battle” – a €14 million ($16.8 million) Dutch co-production with Netflix penned by Dutch filmmaker Paula van der Oest.

When the November 2020 release date was postponed, the Dutch Film Fund organized cooperation between distributors, producers and exhibitors to mitigate the risks of launching during the unpredictable holiday season of December 2020.

According to Beyer, a calculation was made that the production needed 400,000 admissions to break even, which was important for investors and considered achievable given the performance of “Tenet” in Dutch cinemas a few months previously.

All parties therefore agreed that if the release did not get the visitors needed, they would jointly subsidise the shortfall.

In the event, the film’s new December release date coincided with the first day of Holland’s third national lockdown and the film was postponed for a second time, but Beyer hopes that the model and this new spirit of cooperation it has fostered can be deployed elsewhere, if needed.

“For years we’ve been speaking about funding but not working too well with big streamers and cinemas – but recent collaborations have led to new initiatives that work well and we are hoping we will be able to maintain a feeling of solidarity because this is how we come out of it stronger,” he says.

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