Cyprus is officially on the map as an up-and-coming film location with the launch of a new incentive scheme and Film Commission. With its rich historical and natural landscapes, local talent and some of the best incentives in Europe for both local and international producers, the island is ready for its close-up.
Film producers and directors from around the world gathered in Cyprus in October 2018 for the official launch of its long-awaited incentive framework aimed at establishing the island as a new Mediterranean film location branded ‘Olivewood’. Along with the local industry, over 120 top-tier international delegates were invited to the first-ever Cyprus Film Summit, which included key producers from Hollywood, Bollywood and many other European countries.
The fiscal incentive scheme presents a new opportunity for Cyprus to promote itself as a top filming destination and to enter the international audiovisual market with an attractive proposition and package of perks. Although the official government-backed launch of its status as a film destination is a new development, Cyprus has long been on the radar of the international film community and hosts a solid local industry with international expertise to support the growth of this sector.
Since the launch of the scheme last year, Cyprus has attracted significant interest from the global film community. Films shot and produced in Cyprus have also been screened at the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals, and have won awards and praise at the Tribeca, Quebec and Palm Springs Film Festivals. The perks have also attracted a major league movie with production costs estimated at close to €25 million and starring renowned Academy Award winner Nicolas Cage. The science fiction and martial arts film called ‘Jiu Jitsu’ is the first major international production to be filmed entirely in Cyprus since the scheme was rolled out. In addition, the Cyprus Film Commission has pre-approved two other Hollywood films to be shot in Cyprus. More details about these two feature films, including casting, will be announced over the course of 2019.
By 2020, the audiovisual industry is expected to have a global turnover of more than €50 billion. Cyprus has set its sights on claiming a stake in this formidable industry by providing the right incentives to maximise its untapped potential as a filming location, along with the multitude of other competitive advantages it offers as an investment destination.
The new incentive scheme introduced by the government of Cyprus is aimed at encouraging more international productions to film on the island, to foster the local industry and further boost the economy. The package has a number of benefits aimed at both local and foreign producers that opt to film in Cyprus, one of which is a cash rebate or tax credit of up to 35% on qualifying production expenditures. Production houses can also benefit from tax allowances of up to 20% for investment in infrastructure and equipment, as well as Value Added Tax (VAT) returns on expenditure in scope.
In January 2019, Cyprus further amended the scheme to make it even more attractive by abolishing the previously set maximum refund ceiling per production, and approved a maximum annual budget of €25 million for reimbursement purposes.
Within the scheme, the qualifying production categories include feature films, television films, series and mini-series, creative documentaries, digital and analogue animation, television research programmes and natural history programmes. In addition, trans- and crossmedia productions and reality programmes that directly or indirectly promote the Republic of Cyprus can also apply. Productions will also score extra points if they satisfy a number of cultural criteria such as hiring local actors in leading roles, highlighting local or international cultural elements and using the local language.
The new Cyprus Film Commission, which is chaired by the country’s investment promotion agency, Invest Cyprus, also consists of representatives of the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Education and Culture and the Deputy Ministry of Tourism. The Commission is the responsible body for examining all applications, while the remit of Invest Cyprus is to promote the incentive scheme abroad, facilitate productions and foster connections with the local industry through an online platform branded Film in Cyprus. Interested parties can submit their applications for the scheme through the portal, which also provides more detailed information on qualifying criteria.In addition, continuous support will also be provided by Invest Cyprus in cooperation with the relevant ministries and governmental departments in matters such as permits, importing and exporting equipment and other necessary instructions.
Local Crew and Production Support
Although the local film industry is small in comparison to many countries, Cyprus has a strong pool of multilingual professionals working in the film and television sector with international training and experience. An added benefit is that English is almost universally spoken on the island. Production and post-production crew such as directors, producers, DPs, camera operators, sound technicians, editors, location managers, photographers, grips, gaffers, production assistants, fixers, as well as wardrobe, hair and make-up professionals can be found relatively easily.
Cyprus also has production equipment rental companies with high-end and reliable kit to support foreign teams filming on the island, or to hire second unit crews. These companies have a strong track record in working with both local and international crews and networks on productions of all sizes, ranging from feature films and documentaries, to music videos and TV ads.
Although the country does not yet have big studios or sound stages, there are a number of smaller studio owners that can cater to the needs of foreign producers. In fact, the government has identified this niche as a potential investment opportunity as the sector grows further.
A Variety of Landscapes
Dubbed a natural film studio, Cyprus certainly has much to offer despite being a small island. It has a rich historical and cultural landscape featuring various historical periods, ranging from archaeological sites to quaint villages and modern cities. Cyprus offers endless opportunities for film makers with its ruins of ancient city kingdoms with pillars and amphitheatres, Venetian bridges tucked away within the forest hills, ancient aqueducts, Byzantine art and architecture, as well as the unique 16thcentury Venetian city walls and heart-shaped bastions of Nicosia that protect the labyrinthine streets of the vibrant old city.
The coastal city of Limassol is currently undergoing a Dubai-like transformation with multiple skyscrapers being built along its beach-front promenade offering a modern and more cosmopolitan city scape. The luxury Limassol Marina juts into the sea adjacent to the old town and the medieval Limassol Castle, where according to legend Richard the Lionheart married Berengaria of Navarre and crowned her Queen of England in 1191. Also near Limassol is the Kolossi Castle, which is a former Crusader stronghold of the Knights of the Order of St John of Jerusalem and was briefly taken over by the Knights Templar in 1306.
Cyprus provides much variety also in terms of its natural landscape. Its 648km of coastline presents rocky coves, stretches of beautiful pebble and sandy beaches, light houses, ports both big and small, as well as some of the cleanest beaches and waters in the Mediterranean Sea. In Nicosia, the flat plains look like a desert in the peak of summer, but are transformed to a lush green during winter months. In the centre of the island, the pine-clad Troodos mountains provide stunning hilltops, valleys, waterfalls and picturesque vineyards and traditional villages, with its peaks covered in snow in the winter. Larnaca offers cityscapes and salt lakes teeming with flamingos in the winter, while Paphos – the legendary birthplace of Aphrodite – has more historical sites, beautiful beaches and hills, the Akamas Nature Reserve and banana plantations scattered along its coast.
A key advantage of Cyprus for film production is the predictability of its climate. With around 340 days of sunshine a year the island is a true year-round destination. The abundance of natural light is a key aspect of film production and it should be noted that Cyprus and Los Angeles are almost on the same latitude. The hot and dry summer is from May to October, and the mild and green winters with occasional rain are from December to February. There are clear distinctions between the two seasons, which are separated by a short autumn and spring when the island’s flora is in full bloom.
Cyprus’ advanced infrastructure is constantly being upgraded and offers road, air and sea transport solutions and services. The Republic of Cyprus has two multipurpose deep-sea ports and two international airports, Larnaca and Paphos, which are served by over 70 airlines, operating to 120 destinations in 40 countries. In 2018, the two airports saw a total of 11 million passengers and this figure is set to grow further in the next few years due to record-breaking numbers in tourism. Located at the crossroads of three continents, Cyprus is a short flight away from some of the most prominent transit hubs in the world. Direct flights are available to Cyprus from all the major cities of Western and Eastern Europe, as well as the Middle East and Gulf region. This is a key factor for productions with multiple locations in Europe and the Middle East.
Due to its small size, internal distances are short between all cities, which are also all under 100 km from one of the two international airports. For example, within an hour’s drive it is possible to go from a snow-capped mountain to a sunny beach. The island’s road network is well mapped and signposted in both Greek and English, and navigating across the country is easy and safe. There are multiple companies that rent a variety of vehicles on both a short- or long-term basis, and thanks to the island’s status as a popular holiday destination Cyprus offers every conceivable type of accommodation – ranging from low-budget hotels and a growing number of five-star luxury resorts, to villas and agritourism houses.
Set for the Silver Screen
Despite being a newcomer of sorts as a European filming location, Cyprus has in fact attracted consistent attention and interest over the decades from big producers and directors worldwide. Unfortunately, many of these prospective projects never came to fruition due to a lack of incentives and official single body to represent the industry and aid in tackling bureaucracy and permits.
So far, the most important coproduction countries for Cyprus have been Greece, Germany, the UK and Serbia. However, the country is keen to expand this list of cooperation countries and create more synergies with other European and global cinema professionals to boost the local industry.
With the 2018 launch of an advantageous film regime, Cyprus has finally perfected its pitch and can go full steam ahead in developing the sector and tap into the full potential of growing interest from international producers. Over time, these developments are sure to filter a positive impact into the wider economy and also refine the know-how and expertise available in Cyprus.
Knock-on effects of fostering this sector will create new jobs, develop new infrastructure such as studios and equipment that will further support the industry, and indirectly also enhance complementary sectors such as tourism, professional services, land development and investment funds related to film.
The island’s natural beauty, local talent, great climate, and versatile locations that could double-up as various destinations from virtually anywhere in the world offer boundless creativity and opportunities for film directors, with only the imagination setting the limits. Cyprus offers a truly cinematic environment and has set the scene for those with vision, now all that is left to do is shout: action.
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