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Olivewood trying to reinvent itself

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Olivewood is not dead in the water, following a fallout with Hollywood producers of the first high-profile film filmed in Cyprus, as it continues to attract big productions and infrastructure investments.

The government is confident that Cyprus’ rebranded audiovisual industry will gain the trust of big studios, shaking off the nightmare after Hollywood producers sued it for not honouring the incentive scheme.

The producers behind Jiu Jitsu, the first major film project to be shot entirely in Cyprus in 2019, starring Oscar winner Nicolas Cage, claim the Cyprus government did not fulfil its €8.5 mln rebate obligations.

The film cost €25 mln and was to shoot Cyprus into Hollywood stardom.

But the producers, following the fallout, abandoned plans to carry out five projects worth €125 mln on the island, taking with it the credibility of the audiovisual incentive scheme.

However, authorities are determined not to let the dream turn sour banking on developments, spotlighting Cyprus as a filming destination.

A €30 mln investment in a film studio in Lympia for foreign and local productions is in the pipeline, while the island is attracting film producers worldwide, such as South Korea – the home of Netflix mega-hit Squid Games.

Cyprus film industry attracted international interest, as it featured as the guest country at the independent film festival Raindance.

Raindance operates in major cities, including London, Los Angeles, New York, Vancouver, Toronto, Montreal, Budapest, Berlin, and Brussels.

Cyprus presented four independent films at the festival ending 6 November.

The Man with the Answers, directed by Stelios Kammitsis, Smuggling Hendrix, directed by Marios Piperides, Pause by Tonia Mishiali, and Patchwork by Petros Charalambous were screened during the festival.

Film studio

Lympia on the outskirts of Nicosia is host to the island’s first multi-million-euro movie studio, as developers are waiting for building licenses to be issued.

The project is said to cost €30 mln with the initiator of the idea, Tasos Anastasiou, already applying to construct a studio and banquet hall.

Anastasiou said the studio would offer filming facilities and services for directors and producers to edit their films.

According to Anastasiou, investors from Greece and the United States have already shown interest in his project.

He said the project would create 100 jobs in the industry.

Meanwhile, a South Korean filmmaker chose Cyprus to double as Columbia after the shooting there was disrupted.

Alexander Papacosta and Ivan Knezevic, who run a film production company, worked with a South Korean production company to shoot part of a movie in Cyprus.

Reportedly, the South Korean filmmaker was satisfied with filming in and around Limassol.

Authorities confident

Authorities also feel the island’s audiovisual industry can establish itself as a major filming destination.

A rebate was not forthcoming to the Jiu Jitsu producers because they had not complied with the regulations of the incentive scheme, officials said.

The Finance Ministry argued that other producers were satisfied with the cooperation they had with authorities.

In comments to the Financial Mirror, a Finance Ministry official in charge of the rebate scheme said three productions have benefitted.

Altadium’s action-packed S.O.S. Survive or Sacrifice, starring William Baldwin and its more recent horror film The Ghosts of Monday, have been approved.

“Furthermore, a recent tweak in regulations is expected to draw in more interest from big studios,” argued the Finance Ministry’s Nayia Symeonidou.

An earlier version of the scheme provided Cypriot and foreign producers with incentives, cash rebates and/or tax credits of up to 35% on qualifying production expenditures.

“This has now increased to 40% but covers expenditures that are made on the island.”

She said the film scheme also provides tax allowances of 20% for investment in infrastructure and equipment, from which investors eyeing to establish studios can also benefit.

The rebate scheme covers expenses made in Cyprus to support the local industry, including local producers, directors, and screenwriters.

“We believe that our audiovisual incentive scheme is one of the most generous in the region, and combined with the island’s natural beauties, offers Cyprus an advantage over other schemes promoted by neighbouring countries,” said Symeonidou.

However, one of the criteria that has changed proves to be a thorny point with producers.

For a film to be eligible for the incentive scheme, its script must be written in Cyprus.

Symeonidou clarified that a foreign scriptwriter could undertake the task of producing a film’s script, but film producers will have to prove that the script was produced in Cyprus.

An industry source told the Financial Mirror that it could not understand why authorities introduced such a clause.

“It is well known that big studios will have their scripts ready well before doing anything else.

“In many cases, they decide to film after they are presented with a worthy script,” said the source.

The government’s foreign investment arm, Invest Cyprus, refused to comment, spearheading the film promotion campaign.