Cyprus is claiming a stake in the international film industry by providing the right incentives to maximise its untapped potential as a competitive and versatile filming location.
Despite the devastating impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the international film industry, the future of Cyprus film and the appeal of the island as an attractive filming location continues to look bright. Following the challenges of 2020, film productions and festivals have been resuming operations and finding new ways to forge ahead safely in the ‘new normal’ of a post-pandemic world.
Cyprus has long been on the radar of the international film community, but truly caught its attention with the official launch of its long-awaited incentive framework in 2018, establishing itself as a new Mediterranean film location branded ‘Olivewood’. In addition to attracting its first few Hollywood feature films to be shot on the island under the new scheme, Cyprus also hosts a solid local industry with international expertise to support the growth of this sector. Films shot and produced in Cyprus have been screened at the Cannes and Venice Film Festivals, and have won awards and acclaim at the Tribeca, Quebec and Palm Springs Film Festivals over the last few years. A good example of this is the Cypriot film Smuggling Hendrix, which received the Best International Narrative Feature at Tribeca Film Festival in 2018.
In 2021, Cyprus participated in the prestigious Cannes Film Festival with its traditional stand at the South East Europe pavilion in the International Village, and the country’s film industry was pitched to major stakeholders with a double showing of two Cypriot productions with Hollywood stars – the action-packed SOS Survive and Sacrifice featuring William Baldwin and horror film The Ghosts of Monday starring Julian Sands. Also the first Hollywood movie to be entirely shot in Cyprus under the incentive scheme, Jiu Jitsu starring Nicolas Cage, has done well and has been selected for distribution by Paramount Home Entertainment.
These films employed more than 400 Cypriot film professionals demonstrating the scope of available talent and crew in the country to cater to big-budget and technically complex film productions. But the introduction of one of the most advantageous fiscal incentive schemes, was the catalyst that has sparked real interest and investment for Cyprus to promote itself as a top filming destination and to enter the international audiovisual market with an attractive proposition. Since then, producers from Hollywood, Bollywood and many other European countries have been sizing up the island for future productions thanks to the perks provided by the scheme.
Supporting the Silver Screen
The creation of a dedicated Film Commission and incentive scheme was crucial for the future growth of the Cypriot audiovisual industry, and also provides a boost to the overall economy with significant investments and multiple benefits to promote the country worldwide.
The scheme, which is run by Invest Cyprus – the country’s investment promotion agency – has an annual budget of €25 million for reimbursement purposes. 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 40% 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.
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.
Predictable Climate and Diverse Scenery
A key advantage of Cyprus for film production is the predictability of its climate. With over 300 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 also provides much variety in terms of its natural landscape. Its 648 km of coastline presents rocky coves, stretches of beautiful pebble and sandy beaches, lighthouses, 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.
The island 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 16th century Venetian city walls and heart-shaped bastions of Nicosia that protect the labyrinthine streets of the vibrant old city. The coastal city of Limassol offers 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.
Experienced Pool of Professionals
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. The pandemic has been another key driver to build bespoke soundstages for productions to be able to implement stringent measures and work in a more controlled space for the safety of the entire cast and crew. Also technology plays an ever-increasing role in the industry, and to keep things moving in these social distancing times some Cypriot production houses have also started offering ‘remote filming’ services, which allow producers and directors overseas or locally to direct shoots or monitor production on-set through live streaming.
Modern Infrastructure and Transport Links
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 under normal pre-pandemic circumstances were served by over 70 airlines, operating to 120 destinations in 40 countries. 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.
Cyprus has great potential to develop a thriving film sector. 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. However, to capitalise on the immense potential of this versatile island, Cyprus must invest in crucial infrastructure such as purpose-built studios and implement more strategies to support the growth of a truly international industry to attract major players to its shores.
Knock-on effects of fostering this sector will also create more jobs and indirectly enhance complementary sectors such as cinema tourism, professional services, land development and investment funds related to film. Cyprus, with its cinematic environment, has set the scene for those with vision, and with a robust government-backed framework in place, the country can now turn this interest into real action.
For more information, contact Cyprus' investment promotion agency, Invest Cyprus.
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