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LET’S CEE Film Festival grappling with a loss of financial support


- The Vienna-based gathering, which focuses on films from Central and Eastern Europe, is facing new difficulties surrounding its financing in the run-up to its sixth edition

LET’S CEE Film Festival grappling with a loss of financial support
(© Paulina & Thomas Photography)

The Vienna-based LET’S CEE Film Festival, which focuses on films from Central and Eastern Europe, and countries formerly regarded as such, is facing new difficulties surrounding its financing, on the eve of its sixth edition. With significantly less support from the City of Vienna (now just €30,000) and without the widely expected increase in the minimal funding amount of just €10,000 from the Department for Film of the Federal Chancellery of Austria, LET’S CEE has its strongest partners in the Austrian Film Institute and Creative Europe MEDIA (via Support for Festivals).

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“The new festival funding system that was redefined in 2016 requires of the applicants ‘a continuous innovative quality of work, a focus on a high artistic level beyond convention and commercial orientation, and above-regional and international visibility’, all of which we have. When we got the official communication in January informing us that we were going to receive less instead of more money, that was contrary to all our expectations,” explains Wolfgang Schwelle, the festival’s director and co-founder. “Just like in previous years, we will have to lean on the support of volunteers and trainees. This is exactly what the money is mainly missing for. Given the success of the last year and being the second-largest film festival in Vienna, we were hoping to be considered for a larger financial injection. And yet, we still receive significantly less money than all other comparable Austrian festivals.” Regarding the cuts in LET’S CEE’s financing, Schwelle identifies the main problem as the fact that the budget earmarked for festivals hasn’t changed in some time, owing to the ambitionless cultural policy of the City of Vienna as well as that on the federal level, forcing rivals to “cannibalise each other” to get a bigger share of the cake.

“We also haven’t made ourselves popular by appearing on the scene with an ambitious programme from the start, outgrowing the aspirations of a small-scale film event. The money got scarcer for everybody,” he says, admitting that it is unrealistic to expect special treatment. “It is only fair that the festivals that established themselves a long time ago get the due attention and funding. All we are asking for is not to get a smaller fraction of the money than some others. We are already internationally recognised as a quality festival, and our network consists of serious partners and film professionals,” he concludes.

During the LET’S CEE Film Festival, which is set to unspool between 13 and 22 April, around 150 films will be screened in five Viennese cinemas, and in Graz, Salzburg and Villach, too, with significant support coming from its partner Cineplexx. “We are not paying a penny to use their venues, and without this kind of support, the whole thing would be impossible,” says Schwelle. Founding director Magdalena Zelasko explains that all short-film slots will be free of charge for audiences, regardless of whether they are in the official competition or not. “We want to enable those who normally can’t afford to go to the cinema to come and watch our films,” she states.

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