Karlovy Vary fest bizzers are closely studying pacts allowing small nations to join forces for coin, facilities, talent and distribution, having packed into an antique cinema hall to hear from producers of four pending productions that have done just that.

Film New Europe, a website that monitors Eastern Europe productions in detail, launched the international co-production workshop to provide insights into the often complex deals. Reps of national film funds in Hungary, Slovakia, Poland and the Czech Republic presented a brief run-down of their varying rules, some of which can disqualify projects with international partners.

Producers of Krakow-set true-crime story "Red Spider" advised a creative approach, combining national film funds, co-production pacts, regional funds and private investors. But the private backers in the joint Polish/Czech/Slovak project, a 1.3 million-euro ($1.77 million) pic about Poland's first teenage serial killer, are first in line for grosses, cautioned Viktor Taus of Prague's Fog'n'Desire Films.

"That's why we don't have houses and cars -- we have films," he quipped.

Polish production house MD4, Slovakia's Sokol Kollar, and the Krakow Film Fund are also on board with "Spider," as is Prague pubcaster Czech TV. Taus said in-kind deals with the monolithic television org can unlock substantial resources, although pubcasters in the neighboring nations are far less active in film funding.

Slovak producer Michal Kollar of Sokol Kollar said Czech support is also critical in his country. "I don't remember a decent Slovak film without Czech support ever."

"The Red Captain," a 90s-set thriller Kollar is directing, based on a Slovak bestseller, also involves Slovak, Polish and Czech partners, as does "I, Olga Hepnarova," the true story of a woman who set out to kill Prague pedestrians with her truck to avenge sexual prejudice. "Gottland," an ironic look at Czech pop culture named for superstar crooner Karel Gott, meanwhile, shows that even a genre-bending documentary can make sense for partners in all three countries if the deal is set up right.

In this case, Poland's Centrala Film is contributing 20% of the $500,000 budget for the partly animated omnibus project, with Slovakia's BFilm in for 11% and Prague's Nutprodukce down for the lion's share -- though Prague's FAMU film school, the Slovak Audiovisual Fund, the Polish Film Institute and the Czech Film Fund are also backers.

Although the deals are challenging, they are increasingly common tools for beefing up the productions of small nations -- especially in that each partner distributes the completed film, which is changing the average film export rate of only a few years ago of just 5% for such countries.

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