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Government Mandated Tax Shelter Boosts Belgian Film Biz

Variety logo Variety 5/21/2017 Ben Croll
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Belgium’s 2003 tax shelter had an immediate, galvanizing effect on the local industry. Though the country became one of Europe’s most popular shooting destinations and co-production partners, many in the local industry did not find the program equal for all.

“Where before investors could raise a lot of money, in the end not all of that money went into the films,” says Jeanne Brunfaut, associate director of Centre du Cinéma et de l’Audiovisuel. More than that, the 2003 law required local outfits to seek up to 50% of funding from outside investors, vesting outsized power in those investors’ hands. They could effectively decide what could get made via the local industry.

“Under the previous law, the tax shelter required negotiating with an investor who could choose their project based on its perceived profitability and potential,” says Jean-Yves Roubin, who heads up Frakas Prods., an outfit with a focus on young directors and hard-hitting films. “So if we were to come with a film like ‘Raw’ — which, despite its artistry, is above all a genre film about a young cannibal girl — it would have been harder to compete against the giant French productions also looking for funding via the tax shelter. So it wasn’t easy to produce and develop genre films in Belgium.”

That’s why many of the country’s independent producers viewed the 2014 overhaul as a breath of fresh air. Mandating greater financial transparency, capping the amount outside investors could recoup, and opening the door to further international cooperation beyond the European Union, the reforms broke up what many saw as a creative monopoly, leveling the playing field for all.

“It’s become a different system that, in fact, offers less risk for investors,” says Brunfaut. “There’s more money in general now … [and] because there is more money, more chances taken.”

Case in point: “Raw.” The project might have had greater difficulty getting off the ground under the previous system went into production in 2015. It then premiered at the 2016 Cannes Film Festival where it won the Fipresci prize, sold to Focus Features and began a yearlong world-tour that continues to this day. The gamble paid off in full for producer Roubin, and it wasn’t the only one.

“Things really changed in 2015,” he notes. “While before we produced one or two films a year, we’re now producing six to seven. And it’s due in part to the new tax shelter law.”

Roubin is also taking significant advantage of the expanded playing field. Frakas just wrapped production on “Third Marriage,” a broad comedy budgeted at €4 million ($4.4. million).

“It’s a French-language co-production with Luxembourg and Canada. It’s getting complicated to co-produce with France. Canada has become a partner for Belgian producers.”

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