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Does Croatia Need Feature Film?

General attitudes towards Croatian feature film oscillate between the opinion that ’it is in an absolutely catastrophic shape’ and its more moderate version that it is just bad, unwatchable, and untalented. Behind these attitudes lurks the basic question: what is the use of such films with such directors, scriptwriters, and actors, and with such the funding criteria as are practiced by the Ministry of Culture? Would it not be more economical to shut down feature film and redirect the considerable movie money to those who can make better use of it?

More specific arguments run something like this: (A) Cinema attendance of Croatian films is extremely low; some of Croatian films had no more than 200-300 viewers on their first run in theaters. (B) Croatian films are not watched because their quality, both technical and artistic, is unsatisfying. Especially when compared to the films that dominate the Croatian cinema repertoire. (C) If our viewers do not watch Croatian films, it means they do not need them. Viewers’ thirst for good films can easily be satisfied with much better foreign films. (D) Although unnecessary, these films still exist, and, it seems, only for two reasons. They exist for the sake of filmmakers who make them — who have made a living on filmmaking. Or, they exist for national representation — so that the state has something to show to other states. (E) However, we have not had much success with the latter. Namely, the failure of Croatian films is not limited to Croatia, they have not managed to make any significant impact abroad either. Within international film establishment, Croatian cinema is unknown. (F) Most domestic films are subsidized by the Ministry of Culture. Banks and distributors in Croatia are not in the habit of investing in films production, and sponsorships are insufficient. Since government money covers only part of the production and promotion costs, Croatian projects are always having difficulties with raising sufficient funds. Films are made in traumatic financial conditions; authors are constantly economizing on the budget, which results in technically and imaginatively inferior films. On the other hand, it is often said that state gives too much to film art instead of investing in other ’more successful’ arts, which are also in desperate need of funding (for example, theatre, classical music, museums, publishing, etc.). (G) Since the second biggest sponsor of feature films is television, there were suggestions that television should take charge of the all film production. (H) Yet another problem of Croatian film are marketing and promotion — very little (almost nothing) is done for the promotion of Croatian films abroad. In short, in view of all these arguments against feature film, state patronage of the cinema seems pointless.
Although these arguments may be partially founded, they lead to an misrepresentation of the situation thus helping create the atmosphere of anticultural destructiveness.

What is wrong with all these reproaches to Croatian film? (A) First, it is simply not true that Croatian films are not at all attended in cinemas. During the last decade, there were some Croatian films that have outmatched the most of imported film blockbusters in their first run (e. g. The Outbreak of War on My Island with the attendency more then 500. 000). On the other hand, the claim that Croatian films are the worst attended films in theaters (and that are unwatchable) disregards the fact that some of the films with poor cinema attendance get the very high television attendency ratings (they tend to be among that week’s most watched programs). Obviously, the expectations of cinemagoers and TV viewers differ, and the low cinema attendance does not necessarily prove Croatian films being ’unwatchable’. (b) Although most films are technically much inferior to dominant American films, they are still acceptable to foreign festivals. Moreover, some of them, though admittedly with much effort, manage to match up to high design standards of western films. Besides, technical characteristics are subject to development, they are not set once and for all. As far as artistic achievement is concerned, it oscillates: there are always far more bad productions than masterpieces as in all cinemas. However, even if Croatia does not produce masterpieces, there are still many praiseworthy films. It is unfair to compare Croatian films presented in cinema theaters with foreign films on the theater screens simply because ALL Croatian film production is unselectively presented — both good and all bad films — while foreign films (US mostly) are highly selectively chosen, and European films are represented only by their artistic highlights. (c) Big expectations and great disappointments that accompany premieres of Croatian films are a significant evidence of the importance Croatian film has in the eyes of the native moviegoers and to the journalistic public opinion. Although foreign films may satisfy our imaginative needs, they obviously cannot provide the particular Croatian idiom that is sought for by the native public. (d) Now, as to the argument that movies are used for filmmakers ’survival’ and for state representation, we can say: ’So what?’. Just like any other art, film is a multifunctional phenomenon. If those two motives keep it alive, improve its quality and help its promotion, we should not complain. (e) International success is not an easy goal to attain for any ’small’ cinema. Making it happen is a long-term cultural policy issue, it is a matter of development. Present, not succesfull, situation need not be a sign of a terminal illness. (f) It is not true that films receive government funds that exceed subventions in other art field: a quick overview of all government funding reveals that some areas receive much more money than cinema (museum and galleries, publishing, performance arts). In spite of the financial difficulties, Croatian authors have never stopped shooting films. One of the newer tendencies is to apply for international subsidies, especially those available in the European Union. (g) Television could hardly take over all the film production. Public television HRT traditionally fills its program schedule with films made by the authors working outside of their institution. The existing practice should only be more formally regulated (by law, or contract), so that the cooperation of the public television (HRT) and the Ministry of Culture is not ad hoc matter, or matter of political pressure. (h) A long-term promotion policy could easily change the present weak position of Croatian film, both in Croatia and abroad. Instead of fussing over films, arbiters like the state (Ministry of Culture), the producers, and the distributors should make an effort in Croatian film promotion, and get to work.

That is the only way the ’small’ Croatian cinema, small in the sense of the production, market and competitiveness, is ever going to prosper. So the answer to my title question is — ’Yes, Croatia does need its feature film production’ and the whole thing is worth the trouble.

Hrvoje Turković

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