Cyprus has attracted significant interest from the global film community in the last two years, following the launch of its fiscal incentive scheme. 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 a versatile filming location continues to look bright.
Cyprus has set its sights on claiming a stake in the international film 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 country has garnered the attention of international film producers and placed itself firmly on the world cinematic map as an interesting and cost-effective film location. The official launch of its long-awaited incentive framework in 2018 established the island as a new Mediterranean film location branded ‘Olivewood’ and promptly attracted multimillion-budget movies headlining Hollywood stars such as Nicolas Cage and William Baldwin. These films employed more than 400 Cypriot film professionals proving the scope of crew and talent available in the country to cater to international big-budget film productions. Since then, producers from Hollywood, Bollywood and many other European countries have been eyeing up the island for future productions thanks to the significant perks provided by the scheme.
The local industry, albeit small in size, is also flourishing with talent and ideas. 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.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 has seen major film release dates and many film festivals cancelled or postponed, both local ones like the Cyprus Film Days Festival and prestigious international ones like the Cannes Film Festival, and productions all over the world have ground to a halt. There is no denying these are challenging times for the creative industry, but the long-term future remains bright. 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. This, coupled with the introduction of one of the most advantageous fiscal incentive schemes, 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.
Package of Perks
A key achievement of the last two years was the Council of Minister’s approval of the Cyprus film incentive scheme, which is run by Invest Cyprus – the country’s investment promotion agency – with an annual budget of €25 million for reimbursement purposes. This development was crucial for the growth of the Cypriot audiovisual industry, and will also provide a boost to the overall economy with significant investments and multiple benefits to promote the country worldwide.
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.
The first international film exclusively shot in Cyprus using the 35% film incentive scheme was Jiu Jitsu starring Nicolas Cage. It was directed by Dimitris Logothetis and produced by Martin J. Barab and Dimitri Logothetis. The film was picked up by Highland Film Group (HFG), and successfully completed shooting on the island in August 2019. The feature is currently in post-production and is expected to be released in 2020.
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 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 is 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.
Crew and Production Support
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.
In the summer of 2019, Hollywood producers visited Cyprus and declared their interest in the possibility of also building a film studio in the coastal city of Paphos. The International Chairman of the Producers Guild of America Kayvan Mashayekh, Oscar-winning producer Mark Foligno, Emmy award winner for animation/special effects Nassos Vakalis, and Demetris Anagnostou, CEO of Los Angeles-based Declare Productions, met with key stakeholders and expressed their interest in shooting in Cyprus.
A Year-Round Destination
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.
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 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 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 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, 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.
Connectivity and Infrastructure
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. 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.
Although Cyprus made its official entrance onto the world stage only recently, the country has in fact attracted 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. With a new government-backed framework in place, the country can now turn this interest into real action.
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.
However, industry professionals and producers have warned Cyprus not to rest on its Olivewood laurels, as to develop the sector into a true international industry and economic driver more investment is needed in crucial infrastructure such as purpose-built studios, and in educating the professional crews and technicians to support the industry in the future.
Knock-on effects of fostering this sector will create jobs, develop new infrastructure and equipment that will further support the industry, and indirectly also enhance complementary sectors such as cinema tourism, professional services, land development and investment funds related to film.
Cyprus certainly has all the pieces of the puzzle to develop a thriving film sector, what is needed now is the right kind of investments and strategies to support the growth of the industry and attract major international players to captialise on the immense potential of this beautiful and versatile island.
For more information, contact Cyprus' investment promotion agency, Invest Cyprus.
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