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At the end of November in Paris we signed a cooperation agreement between the State Centre for the Support of National Cinematography (Kazakhcinema) and the French National Centre for Cinematography and Animation (CNC). Baurzhan Shukenov, deputy chairman of the Kazakhcinema says about how important this agreement is for the development of the national film industry.  

- Signing the agreement with CNC was one of the main priorities of the State Center for Support of National Cinematography,"  said Mr. Shukenov. - The fact is that the basic principles and the very psychological basis, if I may say so, of our law "On cinematography" were taken from the French legislation. Although there is a fundamental difference - we are funded from the state budget, they collect in the form of taxes

 - Is this the first joint document that we signed with the French on film cooperation??

- Not exactly. The first was an intergovernmental agreement signed back in 1992. Then JSC «Kazakhfilm» signed an agreement with the French side on cooperation and co-production. But our aim was that if we begin working with such a reputable international organization as the CNC, then we should have the fullest possible regulatory framework which would exclude bureaucratic obstacles. Now we count on the fact that the Kazakh side - without a contractor in France - will be able to participate in film production competitions. The French side will be able to do the same without any counterpart in Kazakhstan. Time will tell whether we will be able to overcome national legislation.

After the signing of the cooperation agreement between CNC and Kazakhcinema.

First of all we have had no such experience before. But the point of the negotiation process was precisely to pave such a road.

Secondly, we have to find specialists both here and in France who would be interested in joint production. Because French law and the CNC capabilities are built into these positions: working with foreign contractors and, most importantly, supporting the distribution of foreign films in France. And this is exactly what we need.

- What else did you manage to agree on?

- There are a lot of important and interesting points in the agreement for us. First of all, it is the preservation of archives – the digitalization of the film fund and its display on big screens. By the way, in the program of the Cannes Festival there is a section «Cannes Classics», in which several digitized paintings of foreign countries are shown every year. An example is the screening in 2015, at the 68th Cannes Film Festival, of Sergei Eisenstein's «Ivan the Terrible», which was filmed during the war at the Central United Film Studio in Almaty.

Now we have an excellent opportunity to conduct such work within the framework of the signed agreement. Of course, to begin with we have to choose films that will be of interest to both Kazakhstan and France.

The second important paragraph of the agreement is education. And, first and foremost, primary education in the field of cinema. For some reason we mostly send young people to study in London or New York. Perhaps this is due to the fact that there are not many French-speaking applicants in Kazakhstan, and French educational institutions always focus on the French language.

The next very interesting section is about joint anti-piracy activities. Unfortunately, pirates feel very free in our market. We have no serious legislative barriers, with which we could fight this phenomenon, and the help of France, which is far advanced in this field, is simply invaluable for us. It is still too early to talk about methods and technology to track pirated products and stop them from being distributed. At this stage, we are considering which international organizations we should join in order to work together with them.

And, of course, very important and serious sections of the agreement are co-production and mutual circulation of films. The first should pave the way for co-production, the second should facilitate distribution contacts, which will allow Kazakh films to be shown in France, and French films to be shown in Kazakhstan.

Working meeting at the CNC office (from left to right): Baurzhan Shukenov, Asel Yrys, Julien Ezano, Andre Ivanov.

These are the main provisions specified in this agreement. It turned out exactly as we had planned – small, but at the same time professional, capable of maximally promoting the rapprochement of our two film industries.

-  Well, the agreement is signed - but what are the next steps?  

- There is serious work to be done with the budget code, which must be carried out jointly with the authorized body – so that the paragraphs reflected in the agreement have their own financial support. For some of these steps, the financial resources pledged this year have already been disbursed. It is still difficult to say whether they will be provided for next year, but the document itself is already a very serious reason to apply for funding.

The French noted themselves that such an agreement signed, firstly, during the visit of the President of Kazakhstan to the French Republic, and secondly, in the Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs of France - is in their practice for the first time. Therefore, the significance of the document is, without exaggeration, great.

- Let's clarify. Are we talking about the level at which the agreement was signed?

- It is exactly about that level. Because the French have experience in such cooperation. The CNC has signed agreements similar to ours with almost all the countries of Eastern Europe and with all the members of Eurimages. This is an organization, which supports cultural and cinematographic initiatives in European countries.

I would also like to emphasize that the preparation of the agreement took place during the year. The most direct participation in the process was taken by the attache for audiovisual cooperation of the French Institute at the Embassy of France Emmanuel Fosillon, Chairman of the Kazakhcinema Esetzhan Kosubayev, Cultural Adviser of the Embassy of France in Kazakhstan Alex Bortolan, CNC Advisor for International Co-production Julien Ezano.

Much teamwork was done by the president of the French Association of Kazakh Cinema Andre Ivanov, the head of the international department of Kazakhcinema Assel Yrys and producer Diana Ashimova.

During the Kazakh Film Festival in France (from left to right): Diana Ashimova and Andre Ivanov.

- Do you already understand the pitfalls that await us in the implementation of this agreement?

- Of course. According to the law, our Film Center has certain functions for which it is the operator of state support. The CNC also has exactly the same or similar areas of state support, although they have more authority and therefore more resources. These are production, audiovisual support, tax collection, distribution of foreign films, screening and distribution of their own films, support for animation and non-fiction films. In France, all of these areas are supported by the state - that is, by the CNC Foundation.

Compared to them, it is somewhat blurred in our country - there is no absolute certainty as to which areas are supported or will be supported, and as a consequence, certain budget programmes correspond to specific items. In French legislation, the link between the areas of support and guaranteed budget financing is spelled out very clearly.

But their financing is structured quite differently. The CNC receives nothing from the state. All of the money that accumulates in the fund's budget - which is over 700 million euros - is completely collected from the market. This includes taxes from ticket sales, television channels, charges from streaming platforms, a certain percentage - however small - of the sale of anything that can be used to record a film: CDs, phones, computers, and significant VAT benefits. In other words, it is a tax-collection function which the state partially delegates to a fund that has the right to do this.  And, of course, it is a fund of double subordination - on the one hand, all cash flows are controlled by the Ministry of Finance, on the other hand, the Ministry of Culture monitors where and how these funds are allocated. In my opinion, the system of such support for national cinema is not just unique, but one of the best in the world. That is why it is so important for us that we cooperate with the people who make decisions and who have expressed their willingness to support us - in terms of expertise in our legislation, actions related to financing and in many other ways. As we understand it, our French colleagues in many countries have already done this kind of expertise. 

- And yet, let's try to imagine what the real fruits of such cooperation should be? The legislation is clear, but what about education and co-production?

- - First of all, we need to solve the primary issue of financing. If we know approximately what amounts the authorized body in the person of the Ministry of Culture and Sports of the Republic of Kazakhstan allows us to spend on educational programs, we will be able to leave a detailed roadmap. And there can be many such programs: joint creative laboratories, grants for training –  two- or three-month grants, annual grants – this again depends on the amount of funding. What courses, what personalities, to whom we could entrust this.

As for co–production, so far there is, perhaps, only an understanding that we should shoot something together. And this path must be passed by someone. Either from the French side or from our side. In fact, this is based on a creative unit – some kind of interesting project. A story that would be interesting both in France and in Kazakhstan. And around this project should be gathered a team to go all the way.

In short, this agreement is the beginning of a great journey. If we build our work correctly, we can take over a lot of interesting things and begin to move towards cooperation with major foundations from other countries. And, perhaps, paving the way to Eurimage is also a serious and long way, but it must also be passed.