At Last: Support for Dutch Feature Films
After WWII, the Dutch government’s attitude towards film changed drastically. While prior to the war, topics such as censorship and tax rates defined the relationship between the government and the film industry in the Netherlands, after the war the relationship became more constructive.
Of course, censorship, which was a subject of mutual interest to both the government and the film world (especially the Nederlandse Bioscoopbond), and entertainment tax remained on the agenda, but they also saw that film was a cultural vehicle and a medium that could be used for promotion, education and presentation.
For the first time, the government was prepared to invest structurally in film and, in 1946, film production appeared for the first time as an item in the federal budget. In total, 145,000 guilders (65,000 euros) were reserved, of which 100,000 guilders (45,500 euros) were set aside for short films.
This stimulus chiefly benefitted the documentary genre and led to the production of a respectable number of short films, mainly documentaries in which Dutch culture and industry played a central role. These films were released in Dutch cinemas and were also screened at foreign festivals, where they were enthusiastically received, and filmmakers such as Herman van der Horst and Bert Haanstra gained international attention.
A Structural Policy
The Dutch feature film, however, profited only marginally from government support. Occasionally a film was co-financed by a ministry – for example, the Ministry of Justice helped fund Rechter Thomas and the Ministry of Agriculture did the same for Sterren stralen overal – but there was no structural policy to speak of in this area.
It was only in 1956 that this would change, when the Productiefonds voor de Nederlandse Film (Production Fund for Dutch Film) was founded. The driving force behind this organisation was the NBB. They’d written the Ministry of Education, Arts and Science earlier that year to propose mutually jointly supporting the Dutch film industry. This support would be coordinated in the form of a fund that would manage capital and grant subsidies. The NBB proposed to make a one-time donation of 300,000 guilders (136,500 euros) and to add 200,000 guilders (91,000 euros) to this annually for 10 years. It asked the ministry to make an annual investment of 300,000 guilders.
The fund would be overseen by a three-party board of directors. The proposal was received positively by the ministry and, at the end of 1956, the Productiefonds was started up. There were five members on the board of directors, including the director of the NBB, who would be able to represent the interests of Dutch film production. The new fund’s most important mandate was to advance Dutch film production, in particular feature films, mainly by creating favourable financial conditions.
Living Up to Promises
In order to accomplish this, the fund had access to a budget that increased annually. The NBB kept its promise to invest 200,000 each year; the government came through with 225,000 guilders (102,275 euros) in the first years. After a few years, the government increased its contribution and in 1966, when the NBB suspended its annual donation due to problems with the entertainment tax, the government’s annual contribution approached one million guilders.
Besides this, the fund received yearly return premiums. In the 1970s these returns would amount to an average of around half a million guilders a year, which was added to the available budget.
Because the NBB reversed its decision and began to contribute annually again, and as the government’s yearly investment continued to increase substantially, at the end of the 1970s the fund’s annual budget reached five million guilders. In the 1980s, this trend continued and each year millions of guilders were available for the production of Dutch feature films.
In 1992, the Productiefonds fused with the Fonds van de Nederlandse Film which, with its much smaller budget, worked on behalf of art films. The new organisation was named the Nederlands Fonds voor de Film. The budget continued to increase and at the end of the 1990s – on the eve of the new CV arrangement for film financing – the annual budget was around 20 million guilders.
A Solid Foundation, But No Continuity
In the area of financing, a solid foundation was laid, but there still wasn’t any continuity to speak of, if one looks at individual filmmakers and producers. Having completed a film, most of them had to return to the back of the queue and wait their turn. This caused loud criticism throughout the years, from among others Wim Verstappen and Pim de la Parra who, with their production company Scorpio, made a number of films without subsidies from the film fund. For others, like Paul Verhoeven, it hastened their departure to another country.