Interview with Anca Mitran, the General Director of CNC
Romanian filmmakers are not happy with the way CNC – the most representative institution of local cinema is representing us. There have been a lot of negative articles and lots of established filmmakers have publicly shown their discontent with the way the institution is managed by Anca Mitran, the General Director. In any conflict, there are more sides and neither of them is fully right – with that in mind, I wanted to discover the point of view on Miss Anca Mitran on why there is a lack of communication between the industry and its main institutions, as well as why do we find so difficult changing the outdated Law of Cinema we have.
Ms. Mitran, I would like to start off this interview with a short introduction about yourself. Who are you and how did you become director of ANF (The National Film Archive) and later on of CNC (Romanian Film Center)?
I believe I’m a normal human being who discovered the film industry out of chance. My childhood intention was to pursue the path of philology – I have graduated from a French high school and ended up studying chemistry at university. The first job I took in the film industry was in 1989, after an interview. I found the job application in a newspaper, and that’s how it all started – I was a film engineer at Buftea, where I stayed for around two years. After that, I worked at Romania Film, which was the main center for distribution and film exploitation. At ANF I received the job of general director after an interview and 18 years later, I took the job as CNC’s director – after a job interview as well.
You’ve been the main decision-maker in the most important local film institutions for over 23 years. What do you think one’s card should be, in this position?
A good knowledge of the industry – from production to distribution. Tenacity, which I believe is necessary in any field, and objectivity – a must-have for any decision-maker.
Would you say you acquire the ones above?
I would say my advantage is the fact I had the chance to discover the industry in all its aspects – the processing, production, distribution. It made it easier for me, I didn’t have to learn everything from scratch. Moreover, after I graduated chemistry, I took an MA at SNSPA (The National School of Political Sciences and Public Administration) in Administrative Sciences, which helped a lot.
In the 18 years you’ve been ANF’s director, there has never been a digital restoration of a Romanian film, the first initiative of this kind was conducted by Fundația 9 and Avanpost for the movie The Oak (1992, dir. Lucian Pintilie). Could you tell me why?
First of all, there is a difference between re-mastering and restoring – what happened with The Oak it’s called re-mastering and it lasted around two months. A digital restoration is a remake of a film, photogram by photogram, color corrections and image stabilization, among others. Romanian film negatives do not need restoring, most of them need re-mastering, which means little fixtures, a digital clean-up. There’s a program, DIAMOND, and with it, my co-workers from Jilava lab manage to restore around three to four minutes a week – it is a very thorough process, you can imagine it cannot be done in such a short time if it’s for a feature film.
And how do you explain the fact that The Oak was promoted as a digital restoration?
Well, who’s the specialist who came to the conclusion the film should be restored? I am the only expert in conservation and restoration in Romania, confirmed by the National Committee of Museum Collections, and no one has asked for my opinion. So it’s quite difficult to answer your question. ANF has digitally restored five films and remastered 114, so far.
I read an interview you gave to Observator Cultural in 2016, in which you claimed ANF is not the legitimate rights owner of the films in its collection, therefore it could never raise its visibility through the movies’ promotion, nor make a profit. However, both would be beneficial in the evolution of the institution.
I have to contradict you. In my 18 years as a director of ANF, I don’t think you have ever heard me applauding the good things that we did at the archive, but I will tell you now that it was renovated at Europeans standards – from the deposits, to the methods of conservation, we have a system implemented in 2010; all films are treated, put in vacuum-sealed packaging and then deposited in special stores. All film spools have a barcode which makes their identification easy and all the documents like posters and scripts, among others, can be scanned and introduced in our database. Even though these things weren’t made public, anyone can come and check.
Don’t you think it would be useful to promote these kinds of good things publicly? Was it your decision to do otherwise?
It wasn’t, but there’s never a good time for news like these – to make a press conference in which you only talk about the wow element, like what new machines we bought or what digital restoration software we have, these are not as important as what you can do with them. There were a few articles in the press, but our society tends to be more curious about the sensational and the negative news, so the journalists who wrote about the archive didn’t have good things to say, even though they haven’t visited the archive. And it is open for anyone who wants to research or just discover it. Regarding the cession of the rights, it belongs to CNC, and CNC has a multitude of signed contracts with national TV stations and distributors, and they are an important source of income. We have been trying for a while now to sign deals with online platforms as well, but they don’t seem interested in old Romanian films. Netflix is on our list for a few months now.
ANF has an issue with its employees, as I have heard – most of them are not specialized in back-up, archiving methods, or digital restoration, and they are also underpaid by the state. How could this change, in your opinion, and who should propose a change?
Things have improved in recent years. Most of the archive’s personnel come from the film industry, from labs like the one in Buftea, or the one in Mogosoaia. Unfortunately, being an archivist is not something you can learn in Romanian schools. I am a professor at UNATC (National University of Film and Theatre Arts) and have managed to introduce a class in the curriculum of the Production MA – Audiovisual Archives, but I still believe a school is necessary. The young generation doesn’t know much about working on film and more than 98% of our archives are on film.
In 2016 you became CNC’s director. Could you evaluate your terms of office?
I haven’t observed my failures or my success, but I do have a regret: we are moving so slow with the cinematography law which doesn’t align anymore with our community. There might also be the administrative part – more exactly the way it functions, it’s in the red because there are no contenders at the local income rate. There are things to correct but I’m afraid they’re not in our power.
In 2017, the Cinematography Law has changed some paragraphs, so the Urgency Ordinance no. 67/2017 for the modification and completion of the Government’s Ordinance no. 39/2005, art. 35, line 2, talks about the introduction of a new section within the annual film projects contest – the thematic section for feature and short films. What was the motivation behind this change and how is the theme selected?
The motivation is quite simple – most of our screenwriters and directors are producing art films, specially made for the festival circuit, that does not help the industry financially. We need commercial movies, so our children will go to the cinema and buy a ticket. We introduced this section in hope of more genre movies, such as comedy or science-fiction, or movies for children. The theme is decided within our board meetings and anyone can come up with proposals.
One of the slams brought to the rules of the contest is that it doesn’t encourage the young generation; the up and coming producers and directors compete with the established ones in a system based on festival points, so they start with a handicap. Do you consider an improvement in the contest’s regulations in which the young generation would be supported and encouraged?
The law has shortages and this is just one of them. I’m not keen on those technical points either, which are just a mathematical calculation that doesn’t always portray the reality. EURIMAGES contests are fairer and it’s just about a simple evaluation of the producer or the director. Those points should go to the script, not to the director or producer. I have read really good scripts during our contest sessions that were eliminated after the calculation of the technical points – which is quite sad. Through the new project we have for the cinematography law, we would like to eliminate these points – which, by the way, are complicating our lives as well. It is a very laborious calculation and you can fail terribly wrong.
I know there’s been a new law project for about two years now, and there were some meetings with the Ministry of Culture for this purpose. Is it still relevant and what does it propose?
It’s still up to date, we have sent it to the Ministry of Culture who sent it to the specialty departments and we hope it will be made public and uploaded on the Ministry’s website in a few weeks, with all its amendments. One of the important changes we have proposed is removing the fixed dates for the film project contests; the cinema fund is not a state fund, it is made out of the economical agents’ contributions and that is why we can never anticipate the amount of money we will collect. For example, since the pandemic started, we have collected so little, and we can’t tell when the next contest will be. We have also proposed what I was saying above, about the technical points, as well as jury boards elected for one or two years, consisting of experts and lecturers. We would also like to change the title of the money we are giving to production companies, from direct credit – which is returnable, to financial support.
Two sessions ago there was a lot of discontent about the contest’s results, mostly because the jury members haven’t respected the obligation to complete the evaluation papers and their competence was put to question. How is the jury selected?
All the industry’s associations and unions are sending their proposals and I consult with the board members. So far, we have chosen diversity – we tried to have directors, screenwriters, producers, DOP’s, film critics, to name a few.
Since I work as a journalist and editor in chief at FIF, I had the chance of meeting a lot of established filmmakers and they all believe there is a deficiency in communication between the filmmakers and the CNC, which is why they believe the industry evolves slowly. I’m curious, what is your point of view on this matter?
I don’t know what you’re referring to when you talk about the slow evolution of the film industry. Could you be more clear?
Starting with the cinematography law, where the filmmakers plead they’re point of view is not taken into consideration…
At the beginning of our interview, I was emphasizing on the laborious process of it. There were a lot of law changing proposals, some have remained at this stage; I don’t know if you know, but the industry is made up of three different generations of filmmakers who have diverse interests and they don’t always make amends. It’s quite hard to please everyone, I believe this new law proposal, which should be public in a few weeks, will raise a lot of discussions and strife. Our country produces a considerable amount of films throughout a year, compared with the other countries in the region – and keep in mind the state isn’t giving us a dime, all the money is collected from the market. This is a unique situation in Europe, not to mention this money doesn’t cover just the production of the Romanian films, but also promotes local talents in film festivals and covers some distribution costs. If we think about the “fabulous” amount of 50 mil. Euros collected in the last 14 years, I would say our industry has really blossomed. So I really don’t understand what you’re referring to when you talk about speeding up the evolution of the local film industry.
However, a lack of communication exists and is pointed out by a lot of established filmmakers. Could the frequency with which the ministers within the Ministry of Culture are changed be one of the reasons behind it?
It could be a possible explanation, but I think there’s something more – the whole administrative mechanism behind CNC is scanty. At this hour, there are about 500 producers on the market and we are 37 employees that cover the most important departments in our institution – the Cinema Fund which comprises of film production and all film-related events, where we have 17 employees, and the Cinema Registry which is in charge with all authorizations (such as cinema venues and film ratings). We would like to raise the number of employees at CNC; so far, we have managed to obtain an inside team that controls everything from the economical agents to the ones who owe us money.
In the last few weeks, a big scandal has burst out between some filmmakers and the DNA (National Anticorruption Directorate) – it seems an abuse of power has led to a prejudice of millions of euros. Our Cinema Law seems incomplete when it comes to delays in income reports of the movies funded by CNC, the only thing clear is contracts are abated. However, the indicted production houses were banned from applying to the next film project contests. How has this scandal started and how much will it influence production?
It is not a scandal. It all started in 2013 when the supervisory body of the former minister noticed some irregularities, so the file went to the DNA which started an investigation. Within the law, if there are any delays when it comes to sending a copy of the film to CNC and staying up to date with the film’s income reports, the contract is abated and the credit the producer received for the production of the film shall be repaid. As a result, the DNA has summed up the credits of the indicted films and their production companies, which led to prejudice. The law also says the indicted production companies cannot participate in future film projects contests and it doesn’t specify for how long. Last week I had a meeting with the Alliance of Film Producers and agreed upon some urgent changes within the law, however, they are not retroactive. Still, I do not think this influences in any way the Romanian film production, the indicted producers have set up other production companies with which they can apply but lost their points.
Could you tell me what’s your opinion about the film industry today, if you were to compare it with the industry before the ’90s?
Before the ‘90s, the film industry was more organized, even though it has never benefited from state funds, it produced many more films which were distributed and sold internationally, and had a bigger audience in cinemas, so all the money from box office was used for the production of other new films. Sadly, nowadays our movies do not produce revenue and I think this is not because of the low number of movie theaters, but also because of the genre of movies produced – our filmmakers should turn their attention to commercial movies as well. There is also the speed with which everything digitalizes – we are suffocated by the new online media and the new generations are much keener to stay at home, rather than going to the cinema to watch a movie; but Netflix & co. are not contributors to the Cinema Fund, so our industry has to suffer. The near future brings obvious isolation and digitalization, so I cannot tell how much our industry will be able to produce in the next few years.