Croatian filmmakers fight back against political control

Croatian filmmakers fight back against political control
By Akin Nazli in Belgrade February 23, 2017

A group of Croatian filmmakers has launched a campaign against what they say is an attempt to exert direct political control over film financing via the State Audit Office. 

There have already been concerns over creeping authoritarianism and media control by the ruling centre-right coalition between the Croatian Democratic Union (HDZ) and the Bridge of Independent Lists (Most). The previous HDZ-Most government was criticised for similar reasons in early 2016 when it ended the contracts of dozens of journalists and editors at broadcaster HRT, after claiming its news reports favoured the opposition. 

The current spat erupted on February 3 when Croatia’s State Audit Office submitted the Croatian Audiovisual Centre’s (HAVC) financial audit report to the parliament. The Audit Office said that all incentives worth more than HRK200,000 (€26,858) are must be approved by the government, and said HAVC had violated current legislation by failing to do so, according to the audit report.

This caused an outcry among filmmakers, who claimed the requirement would result in increased political control over filmmaking in the Adriatic country. 

HAVC was founded nine years ago as an independent body between the culture ministry and the filmmakers in accordance with EU legislation. Croatian filmmakers see the Audit Office’s recent move as a step backwards for Croatia, an EU member state since 2013.

HAVC head Hrvoje Hbar has already resigned in response to the audit report, while a group of filmmakers and actors have launched “Puk’o nam je film” (We’ve had enough) in protest against the attempt to exert political pressure on the film industry. 

In a statement emailed to bne IntelliNews, producer and film director Dana Budisavljević pointed out that the Audit Office’s decision meant that the funding extended for more than 1,000 films financed by HAVC was illegal. 

“The report states that the HAVC is breaking the law because funding over HRK200,000 should be signed off by the culture minister. This, in effect, means that almost every film shot in Croatia has to be approved by the minister,” Budisavljević pointed out. 

“In a system created to separate film from the ministry of culture, in accordance with European regulations, after nine years, the Croatian State Audit is diminishing the very idea of autonomy, the very reason why the HAVC was established.”

The We’ve had enough initiative founded by the Croatian Producers Association and the Croatian Film Directors’ Guild aims to protect Croatian cinematography from political influence and control, the founders said the statement. 

The initiative calls on the international community to sign a petition to support Croatian filmmakers in their struggle against political pressure. As of February 22, the initiative had collected 700 signatures.

“Cinematographic autonomy is the foundation of its success. The idea that ministers approve or deny financing for film production is absolutely unacceptable on many counts,” film director Antonio Nuić, one of the supporters of the initiative, said in the statement. 

Croatia is a popular destination for international filmmakers, and there is speculation this could be hurt by a protracted fight between the local industry and the authorities. 

In the past years, Croatia has attracted a number of major US productions which have placed large investments in the country and, at the same time, boosted its tourism industry.

The eighth episode of Star Wars was filmed in Dubrovnik, one of Croatia’s best known tourist destinations. The same area was used as a filming location for popular HBO series Game of Thrones and also for a new US film production, Robin Hood: Origins.

However, the domestic media has suffered since the first HDZ-Most government was appointed in early 2016. Croatia dropped five places from 56th to 63rd on Reporters Without Borders’ 2016 World Press Freedom Index.

Amnesty International’s February 2017 report on the state of human rights around the world also criticises the undermining of media freedom in Croatia and the “muzzling” of public broadcasters. 

“Persistent threats to freedom of the media and attacks against journalists continued. In March, the government abruptly ended the contracts of nearly 70 editors and journalists at the public broadcaster Croatian Radio Television, in what was perceived as an attempt to influence its editorial policy, the report says. “Simultaneously, the authorities decided to abolish state subsidies for smaller non-profit media and independent cultural initiatives, further threatening media pluralism.”