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Hungary to Build World's Largest Film Studio Complex - 2004-06-03


Central Europe is to get its own version of Hollywood under a plan developed by the Hungarian government and some investors. They want to build the world's largest film studio complex in a Hungarian village about 20 kilometers west of Budapest. Stefan Bos visited the village, and he reports local residents are already looking forward to the project.

A local artist sings an old song at the annual wine makers' festival in the village of Etyek. His audience is discussing the coming transformation of the town as they savor local wine and grilled sausages.

Europe's own Hollywood has not been built yet, but the 4,000 people in the village are already celebrating.

Officials say the new complex, which will cost an estimated $180 million to build, will include luxury apartments for movie stars and a deluxe hotel, in addition to the extensive studio facilities with seven stages.

Seventeen hectares have been reserved for the project, which will have its own landing pad for helicopters. Construction is scheduled to start next year.

Among the key financiers is Hungarian-born Hollywood producer Andrew Vajna, who made films such as Evita, Rambo 3 and Terminator 3.

Mr. Vajna told VOA that Hungary will soon be able to compete with Hollywood studios, and he hopes films such as the famous series about the fictional British secret service agent James Bond will soon be made on Hungarian soil.

"Well, it is a way to be different than Hollywood I think," he said. "From Hollywood, you know, the [James] Bond movies had to go to England to shoot. Hopefully now they will go to Hungary. The Hollywood studios were built in the 1940s so they are rather old. And I think this will have as good if not better, technology."

Mr. Vajna also points out that Central and Eastern Europe are already attracting Hollywood producers and stars, partly because of much lower labor costs.

For instance, he filmed the most crucial scenes of the movie Evita with pop diva Madonna in Budapest, even though the film was set in Argentina. And film star Nicole Kidman's movie Cold Mountain was made in neighboring Romania, although its setting was the United States.

If it is built as planned, Mr. Vajna's film studio project in the village of Etyek is expected to create 2,000 jobs. No wonder Etyek's 56-year-old mayor, Lajos Kalman, is smiling. He says he never expected that his village would become famous.

"For a time our village was not so popular in Hungary and even less in Europe. But now in the last few days we got a lot of telephone calls," he said. "And a lot of people are interested to buy real estate for houses, and valleys for wine and wine cellars. So the real estate is now very interesting for a lot of people." But the Mayor also wants to make sure that Etyek, where horse carts still compete with cars on the small main road, will not lose its centuries-old traditions.

The waterfall is now the village's main tourist attraction. It draws visitors from around the region. But local people are now hoping to attract movie stars and international tourists. Local entrepreneurs, such as 32-year-old Zombor Andrejka, are particularly looking forward to the arrival of people with lots of money to spend.

"My father produces goat cheese nearby. We could sell and show those people how good is our goat cheese with the local wine, and especially with good wines," he exclaimed.

The studio would also be a boost for Hungary's own film industry. The plan for the film studio in Etyek comes at a time when the Hungarian government has been sponsoring film projects to help the country's artists develop their skills after decades of making only Communist-style films.

Hungary's minister for cultural heritage, Istvan Hiller, has described the project as a modern form of cooperation between the state and the business sector.

To honor Hungary's film industry, the builders of the new studio have reportedly decided to name it after Alexander Korda, a Hungarian-born British film director who made numerous films in Britain and Hollywood. He died in 1956, at a time when such a project could scarcely have been a dream.

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