Despite Budget Crunch, Romanian Industry Makes the Most of Tough Times

For a festival that prides itself on shining a spotlight on the domestic industry, the Transilvania Film Festival can point to a record number of Romanian films unspooling at this year’s 20th-anniversary edition, with 32 feature-length and 13 short films – including 13 world premieres – set to screen in the scenic medieval city of Cluj from July 23 – Aug. 1.

But despite the historic selection, which includes three films arriving fresh off of Cannes premieres, it’s an uneasy time for the local film industry. Funding from the Romanian Film Center (CNC) ground to a halt last year as the coronavirus pandemic leveled the Romanian economy, and an industry that for two decades has produced a string of world cinema heavyweights has been left to wonder what the future has in store.

Speaking ahead of this year’s festival, producer and TIFF founder Tudor Giurgiu spoke candidly about the ostensibly prolific output, crediting “the fortunate momentum” of a year in which cinema closures created a backlog of Romanian features which were mostly shot before the pandemic.

“It’s just a coincidence,” he says. “I’m pretty worried that in the upcoming years, there will be less premieres and less Romanian films to be shown.”

Since the birth of the Romanian New Wave in the 2000s, local filmmakers such as Cristian Mungiu (“4 Months, 3 Weeks, 2 Days”), Cristi Puiu (“Sieranevada”) and Corneliu Porumboiu (“The Whistlers”) have been fixtures at the world’s most prestigious film festivals. This month Cannes hosted the premiere of “Întregalde,” from veteran director Radu Muntean, which will play in competition in TIFF following its world premiere in the Directors’ Fortnight section, as well as two shorts from emerging Romanian directors: Andreea Cristina Borțun’s “When Night Meets Dawn” and Andrei Epure’s “Intercom 15,” which bowed in the Directors’ Fortnight and Critics’ Week sections, respectively.

Yet such success belies what many filmmakers describe as a system buckling under its own weight. “For me, it’s not working that well,” says Muntean, whose previous features such as “Tuesday, After Christmas” (2010), “One Floor Below” (2015), and “Alice T.” (2018) have bowed in the likes of Locarno and Cannes.

Conceived a decade ago, “Întregalde” centers on a group of aid workers from Bucharest who set out to deliver supplies to a remote mountain village when one of their vehicles breaks down. “Initially, when I started to think about this project…I was thinking about a subject for a really low-budget movie: three or four people in a car, in the woods,” Muntean tells Report Door.

Financing the film was a challenge. Despite funding mechanisms like Eurimages, which provides financial support to independent European filmmakers, as well as a host of soft-money schemes across the continent, setting up an international co-production proved to be a struggle. Given the relatively small-scale nature of the shoot, Muntean hoped to finance “Întregalde” independently in Romania.

“Of course, it’s not that easy,” he says. “The film was not really low-budget, because lighting scenes for night shoots in the woods with really long pans and wide shots is not so cheap.” Ultimately, the budget for “Întregalde” climbed to nearly €1 million ($1.2 million), of which more than €600,000 ($706,000) came from a grant from the CNC. “By Romanian standards, it was not low-budget at all,” Muntean says.

The Romanian Film Center, which allocates around $11.2 million in film funding per year through loans and grants, was hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic. Cinema closures and a dramatic decline in TV advertising spend crippled the CNC’s 2020 budget, and the center did not launch a single funding call last year.

However, the CNC was still able to distribute some $4.5 million in top-up grants to projects in production, such as “Întregalde,” that had already been approved for loans. The reopening of cinemas, meanwhile, as well as the revival of the Romanian economy as a whole, has meant brighter prospects for 2021.

CNC general director Anca Mitran says the center received a record number of applications for its loan scheme this year. “I would refrain from stating that we are going back to normal, but the situation is relatively more stable from the film funding point of view,” she says.

Despite the challenges, Romanian filmmakers have been determined to soldier on in uncertain times. “On the one hand, I could sense a certain despair as most production companies were stagnating (without much support coming from the state or government) and many filmmakers witnessing their new films sacrificed on the pandemic’s altar, [with] seriously diminished viewership or no release at all,” says TIFF artistic director Mihai Chirilov. “On the other hand, being myself on the receiving end of the film production chain, this year we were flooded with a record-number of local submissions in all categories.”

This week in Cluj, 12 up-and-coming Romanian filmmakers will take part in the Romanian Days competition, which spotlights first- and second-time directors from the host nation. Among the films to compete are Eugen Jebeleanu’s “Poppy Field” and Bogdan George Apetri’s “Unidentified” (pictured), both of which will also take part in TIFF’s main competition, as well as Ruxandra Ghițescu’s Sarajevo premiere “Otto the Barbarian,” Daniel Sandu’s Shanghai player “The Father Who Moves Mountains,” and Andrei Huțuleac’s debut “#dogpoopgirl,” which took home the top prize at the Moscow Film Festival this year.

As the industry looks to rebound from the economic fallout of the pandemic, filmmakers are being forced to adapt. Just days removed from his splashy Cannes premiere, Muntean says the struggle to finance “Întregalde” has already impacted the way he conceives of future projects. “You need to find ways of financing films, but with really low budgets,” he says. “That’s the way I’m thinking about my next film.” When it comes to budgets, he adds, “I will not think big.”