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Romania’s Culture Minister Confident That Government Can ‘Repair’ Beleaguered Cash Rebate System (EXCLUSIVE)

Romania’s culture minister Lucian Romașcanu is confident that the country’s beleaguered cash rebate system is back on track, insisting in Cannes on Sunday that the government is committed to “repairing” a scheme that has ground to a halt in recent years.

“Everyone in politics, starting with the future Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu, understands the importance of that,” said Romașcanu, outlining plans to rebuild confidence in an incentive program that faces stiff competition in the region. “There is definitely a ‘yes’ from the political world.”

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According to Romașcanu, the administration is now determined to clear a backlog of roughly €100 million ($108.2 million) owed to foreign productions that have lensed in the Eastern European nation since the rebate was introduced, after a host of lawsuits over outstanding payments pushed the cashback program to a breaking point.

He was also optimistic that those payments will begin to flow by this fall, and that a revamped scheme launched this year will again be financed to the tune of €50 million ($54.1 million) a year.

“I think it’s good news that there is total commitment from the political world in Romania,” said Romașcanu, who spoke exclusively to Variety. “It’s not just helping the movie industry. It’s a win-win situation. It will come as a huge benefit for film producers that will also help the Romanian economy.”

Though optimism was sky-high in Romania over the launch of a cash rebate of up to 45% in 2018, the scheme has been plagued since its inception. After a bureaucratic reshuffle following a change in government in 2019 the program ground to a halt, a problem that was compounded within a matter of months when the newly installed administration was forced to contend with the coronavirus pandemic — a dynamic that played out again in 2022 with the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which stalled positive momentum in talks between industry and Romanian officials.

That logjam, however, hasn’t stopped a string of high-profile international productions from coming to the country, including Tim Burton’s “Wednesday” for Netflix and Sky Studios and Canal Plus’ “Django,” the English-language reimagining of Sergio Corbucci’s classic 1966 Western.

As the Romanian government prepares to overhaul its cashback program, Romașcanu said they’ll “look to the schemes that are in place in Europe and take the best of everything,” adding: “I hope that we’ll have the most modern, the best and the most effective scheme [in Europe].”

The meeting with the culture minister, in the company of numerous high-level Romanian industry stakeholders, took place as the sun broke through the clouds over the French Riviera on Sunday, after stormy skies put a damper on the festivities this week at the world’s grandest celebration of cinema.

Frame Film producer Andrei Boncea, who serviced the “Django” shoot, was hopeful that equally sunny days lie ahead for Romania. “After a long fight, I’m very confident that this time will work,” he said. “Eventually, everybody understood the importance of this program.”

U.K. producer Christopher Milburn, meanwhile, last in Romania with Lionsgate’s action film “The Protégé,” from Bond director Martin Campbell, underscored the need to restore “stability” to the long-plagued incentive scheme.

“The first thing that needs to happen is the repayment of the old films in order to give confidence to the market and industry that moving forward, all films will be paid out,” he said. “Our financiers, Ingenious, were fully supportive of the program. It’s one of the reasons [“The Protégé’] went there in the first place.

“It’s very important from the point of view of growth of the Romanian film industry, sustainability of the Romanian film industry, and bringing international projects into Romania,” he added.

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