New Blood Circulates in the Veins of Czech Cinema

15 April 2019

New Blood Circulates in the Veins of Czech Cinema

New Blood Circulates in the Veins of Czech Cinema

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The industry event Czech Film Springboard, attached to the Finále Plzeň Film Festival, has been introducing new Czech projects and emerging talent energetically for the past three years. These ambitious, promising projects in early development offer an inside look at which way Czech cinema is heading.

Artcile by Martin Kudláč for Czech Film Magazine / Summer 2019

However, Czech Film Springboard doesn’t present upcoming projects solely for the benefit of festival scouts, potential distributors, and production partners. It also gives Czech producers and directors the chance to meet with experienced international professionals and hear their opinions. The Springboard enables them to test “how the script is perceived in the international context,” as Ondřej Zima, a producer for Film Kolektiv, said after unveiling his latest project, Mistakes (to be directed by his regular collaborator Jan Prušinovský starting in August).

Other participants from 2018 have also been busy advancing their projects. Writer-director Tomáš Hubáček entered the Script Consulting Incubator after presenting Wirbel at last year’s Springboard. The event truly did serve as a “springboard,” he said, since “the feedback from international industry professionals was a highly valued impetus.” Likewise, producer Julietta Sichel and director Tomáš Polenský’s project The Pack embarked on a grand journey from its starting point at the Springboard, with stops at the Riga International Film Festival Pitching Forum and the Asia Project Market at Busan International Film Festival, the biggest film festival in Asia. Polenský expects to start shooting his debut feature, a sports drama/coming-of-age story that revolves around bullying, in August.

While previous editions demonstrated the wide range of topics, genres, and forms thriving in Czech cinema, the 2019 Springboard selection showcases the firm standing of Czech professionals within the international industry, whether in the realm of development consultations or as coproduction partners from beyond the traditional territory of the Visegrad region. Last year, Czech producers collaborated on such internationally celebrated and award-winning films as Adina Pintilie’s Touch Me Not and Radu Jude’s I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians. Furthermore, domestic producers have succeeded in attracting foreign talent to helm Czech projects, as confirmed by this year’s Springboard selection. One other important aspect that Czech Film Springboard reflects is a growing gender parity.

Fresh Faces at the Gates

The established Czech production company Sirena Film—coproducer of such major international projects as A Royal Affair, Marguerite, and Oliver Assayas’s highly praised Personal Shopper—is introducing new talent to the big screen and local moviegoers. Currently, Sirena is preparing a postmodern crime thriller called Twins, based on the graphic novel by Vojtěch Mašek, and producers Petra Oplatková and Artemio Benki are bringing Mašek onboard to translate his work from static art into moving pictures. After cowriting Václav Kadrnka’s award-winning medieval road movie Little Crusader, this time Mašek will join forces with Michal Nohejl, an well-established director of music videos and commercials, to bring his vision to life on a larger canvas.

“Our goal is to create a movie containing layers of meaning, complementary and intertwined—a storyline true to the genre and investigation rules, causing tension and horror with surprising and unexpected twists,” says Nohejl.

Development is expected to continue through 2020, with postproduction wrapping up in September of the same year. Producer Oplatková notes that the crime/body-horror thriller will be a collaboration between the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and states of the former Yugoslavia. Czech Television has also confirmed involvement.

Another new name in the domestic audiovisual landscape is Vojtěch Strakatý, now set to direct his own script, Eternal Peace, which won him the Stars of Tomorrow Award from the Film Foundation. Marek Novák of Xova Film is producing the apocalyptic minimalist drama, set in the near future on the brink of ecological disaster. The script is being fine-tuned at the Script Consulting Incubator initiated by the Czech Film Fund, and according to Novák, is inspired by events in the director’s life. He said the first clapperboard should clap in summer 2020, with a finished film by winter 2020 or early 2021. They are looking for potential coproducers within the CEE region, Novák added, although they are open to collaboration in other forms as well.

Up-and-Coming Filmmakers Advancing Their Careers

Besides debuting filmmakers, more established directors, too, were featured at this year’s Czech Film Springboard. Andrea Culková introduced her latest endeavor, The Fragile Beauty of Masculinity, which marks her transition to fiction filmmaking. Culková previously directed Sugar Blues, an eye-opening documentary about sugar addiction, and the thought-provoking experimental meta-art project H*ART ON, depicting the trials and tribulations of a modern artist.

Duracfilm, the Prague-based producer of H*ART ON, is also backing The Fragile Beauty of Masculinity, along with Culková’s upcoming documentary, Tepich, a coproduction with HBO that Culková says explores the gender norms of masculine and feminine and “the crisis of masculinity.” She said she spent several years researching the topic, which was supposed to be the basis for her next documentary. But the story morphed into a fiction film after she took part in the Ex Oriente Film workshop, where she met with Finnish producer Iikka Vehkalahti and Polish director Pawel Lozinski.

“At DOK Leipzig Co-Pro Market, we received international feedback, which confirmed the direction we were moving in was the right one,” said Culková, adding that the script was also chosen for a European Women’s Audiovisual Network scriptwriting residency.

The Fragile Beauty of Masculinity, an arthouse drama, follows its protagonist through his recovery after an accident and its impact on his partner and kids. Despite the serious topic, the film won’t be short on humor. “It’s hilarious,” the director assures us. Producer Miroslav Novák says they are seeking a coproducer in Norway, where part of the story takes place, and are also turning to Slovakia, Poland, or France as potential coproduction partners. He expects to see the final cut by September 2021, and launch the film on the international festival circuit in early 2022.

Silvie Michajlova and Ondřej Zima of Film Kolektiv are no strangers to the Czech Film Springboard. With their colleague, Jan Kallista, in 2017 they unveiled the ambitious sci-fi project Restore Point, and in 2018 Money from Hitler. Returning to Springboard turf, they presented their latest project-in-the-making, Martian Ships. Coproduced with the Norwegian outfit Storm Film, Martian Ships was written by Czech author and playwright Zdeněk Jecelín, with Czech documentarian Jan Foukal at the helm.

Foukal debuted with his docu-road movie, Amerika, introduced as an official selection at Karlovy Vary, and in his latest project, based on a true story, he tackles the topic of tragic love. The title refers to the main character Alenka, who blasts through Martin’s life like a spaceship, an intense, year-long relationship with ups and downs leading to a tragic denouement. The director stresses that suicide isn’t the centerpiece of Martian Ships, and the Czech Republic’s second city, Brno, plays a crucial role.

Finally, director Natálie Císařovská takes on the life story of Andrea Absolonová, a professional diver who found fame in the porn industry after she suffered a career-ending injury. The Body, produced by the establishment firm Cineart TV Prague, follows their international award-winning arthouse films Wild Bees, by Bohdan Sláma, and Mira Fornay’s My Dog Killer. Císařovská says she and screenwriter Aneta Honzková found the key to their story in the human body itself, hence the title. Absolonová regards the body merely as an instrument of performance, while exploring the relationship between her body and society. The film is nonjudgmental, with no intent to moralize, Císařovská says. The movie observes a woman’s body in three different environments: professional sports, the porn industry, and an oncology clinic. “Which raises the controversial question as to whether they’re really that much different,” Císařovská says.

Welcoming Foreign Talent

Producer Marek Novák of Xova Film arrived to Springboard with more than just one Star of Tomorrow-winning project up his sleeve. Ordinary Failures, another project he has been developing alongside Eternal Peace, netted the same prize for Klára Vlasáková and even shares the same ominous mood. Vlasáková’s screenplay tells the story of three women of different generations, connected by an apocalyptic dream. In 2018, emerging Romanian-Hungarian filmmaker Cristina Grosan—a Berlinale Talent Campus and Script Station alumnus—took on the project as her sophomore feature-length directing effort.

“We approached several directors, but ultimately invited Cristina to join our project, since her previous films, as well as her sensitivity towards the topic and the protagonists, appear to be a good match with Klára Vlasáková’s script,” said Novák of Xova Film.

Ordinary Failures is currently being developed in the EAVE Producers Workshop. The project, intended as an international coproduction between the Czech Republic, Romania, and Hungary, already has partners secured in each country, and Novák said he expects it to enter production in autumn 2020 with a wrap early in 2021. He says Ordinary Failures is relevant not only for its dystopian theme, but also because of the current tendency in cinema to push reality over the edge. Potential sales agents, festivals, and distributors all got a look at the project in Plzeň.

And Novák wasn’t the only one with foreign talent interested in his project. Andrea Shaffer, founder and producer of Mindset Pictures, with a wealth of experience in the audiovisual industry, concluded the 2019 selection of Czech Film Springboard with her project in development: A Summer Fair, a coproduction between the Czech Republic, Finland, and Slovakia. In his first feature-length outing, Norway-born, Prague-based director Erlend Hella Matre helms a psychological drama about trauma, prejudice, cultural conventions, fear, and ignorance.

The story follows two women, the thirty-something Eva and the twenty-something Sandra, as they gravitate towards a young entomologist in pursuit of a rare caterpillar. Dramatic twists ensue as the main characters wrestle with their past and present alike. “Just like parasitic insects, we feed off of each other, for better or for worse,” says Matre. “No one can survive alone.”

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