€5 mln for Olivewood this year

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The Finance Ministry has earmarked €5 mln for the Olivewood incentive scheme designed to promote Cyprus’ revamped audiovisual sector for big movie studios to sprinkle more Hollywood magic.

According to the 2023 state budget approved by the House, the Finance Ministry plans to hand ten times more cash incentives this year than it did in the past three years.

Since 2019, the Finance Ministry has reimbursed companies with €575,000.

The scheme was introduced in 2017 but was only used in 2019.

In 2020 the scheme was redesigned, raising the ceiling by several million euros to attract the film industry’s big guns.

On offer are tax rebates and credit breaks, with the most attractive incentive being a maximum 35% reimbursement for nearly all expenses made in Cyprus.

It covers hiring local filming crews, renting portable toilets, and recruiting animal actors.

The state scheme covers rebates worth €25 mln per year, with officials aiming to use the entire budget.

Production companies that film in Cyprus can choose between a cash refund and a tax credit.

They will benefit from the tax deduction for investments in infrastructure and equipment, as well as the VAT refund on eligible expenses.

As for the productions that received funding, they include the thriller “The Ghosts of Monday”, which got a rebate of €142,000, the historical drama “Tel-Aviv/Beirut”, also receiving €142,000; and the movie “SOS Survive or Sacrifice”, starring William Baldwin, which was approved for €192,000.

Missing from the list of productions receiving rebates is the first major Hollywood film to be shot entirely on the island, ‘Jiu Jitsu’.

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

But the venture became a nightmare after Hollywood producers sued the authorities, namely the state agency for attracting foreign investments, Invest Cyprus, 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.

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

The scheme found itself in more trouble after a report by the Audit Service found evidence of conflict of interest, sloppiness, and irregular transfer of funds from the Ministry of Finance to the Cyprus Investment Promotion Organisation (Invest Cyprus).

Jiu Jitsu producers have also included the Attorney General in their lawsuits against state officials.

However, the industry appeared to be shaking off the nightmare, as several high-profile productions have been filmed since then, with others in the pipeline.

The Islander

Lefteris Eleftheriou, Invest Cyprus’ senior official for attracting big film productions, talking at last year’s presentation of a co-production of a Cypriot and a US company, The Islander, stressed the scheme is far from dead in the water.

“In recent months, the interest of international producers in Cyprus has increased, with both producers and foreign actors impressed, both with the country’s natural landscapes and with Cypriot professionals.

“We are sure that in the near future, we will hear about more productions to be filmed on the island,” said Eleftheriou.

The film The Islander, starring Agni Scott and multi-talented Harry Connick Jr, is currently in post-production, and producers hope to see it in cinemas this month.

According to film industry sources, The Islander is to become the most expensive Cypriot production, with producers waiting to show the world their work.

Calling the shots behind the camera is South African Cypriot Stelana Kliris.

Olivewood has also been chosen for a new UK drama series on Channel 5.

The mini-series will be shot entirely in Cyprus and screened on Channel 5, the UK’s third-largest commercial TV station.

Love Rat will be a four-episode series produced by Clapperboard Studios and distributed internationally by Entertainment One (eOne).

Love Rat is an escapist fantasy which transforms into a terrifying psychological thriller, commissioned by Channel 5, owned by leading entertainment company Paramount Global.