Bright Prospects for Czech Documentaries

23 May 2019

Czech Film

Bright Prospects for Czech Documentaries

Czech Film

Bright Prospects for Czech Documentaries

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Czech documentary films have made an international splash in recent years. And, if the recent world premiere of Solo in the ACID program at Cannes IFF and three world premieres in the official program of the 2019 Visions du Réel are any indication, that trend is set to continue. Several new documentaries, now in the finishing stages, are looking to storm major festivals this summer and autumn.

Article by Vítězslav Chovanec for Czech Film Magazine / Summer 2019

The current success of Czech documentary films springs from the arrival of a new generation of creatives and producers who look beyond national borders to international themes and modes of cinematic expression, and are used to working in multinational coproductions. These budding talents complement the masters who have already established a name for themselves abroad — Helena Třeštíková (Katka), Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák (Czech Dream), and Martin Mareček (Solar Eclipse) — which creates a healthy breeding ground for a variety of themes and approaches.

Women Step to the Fore

There are plenty of women on the Czech documentary scene, creators and producers alike. It is no coincidence that all three films at this year’s Visions du Réel, held in Nyon, Switzerland, were directed or codirected by women. Two are debut directors who shot their projects outside the Czech Republic.

Greta Stocklassa’s first feature-length documentary, Kiruna - A Brand New World, visits the Arctic town of Kiruna, Sweden, teetering on the edge between progress and ruin. Iron ore mining threatens to destroy the town, forcing the evacuation of its inhabitants. The mining company promises to build a nicer, more modern city, but the inhabitants themselves are beset by uncertainty. The director’s look at the microdramas of ordinary people on the edge of civilization points to the dilemmas and insecurities faced by modern Europe as a whole. The Czech Film Fund supported the film’s production with a grant of €25,000.

Kiruna, appearing at Visions du Réel in the main International Feature Film Competition, is sold by Paul Thiltges Distributions and produced by Analog Vision, a company founded by the project’s producers, Veronika Kührová and Michal Kráčmer. The same duo was also behind My Unknown Soldier, by debut director Anna Kryvenko, which premiered at DOK Leipzig in 2018.

The second debut screening in the Swiss festival is The Sound Is Innocent, by Johana Ožvold, a coproduction between the Czech Republic (Cinémotif Films, Czech Television, UPP, Soundsquare), France (Films de Force Majeure), and Slovakia (Punkchart films, Radio and Television Slovakia). The project was supported by the Czech Film Fund in its developmental and production stages with a total of €69,231. A playful and poetic look at the history and current state of electronic music, Ožvold’s film was selected for the International Burning Lights Competition, which focuses on films with a bold format. Producer Kristýna Michálek Květová (Cinémotif Films) is also working on another coproduction with Western Europe — specifically Beauvoir Films, from Switzerland — for a project by first-time director Fiona Ziegler, In Between Two Worlds, currently in development.

The third film in the Visions du Réel program, this time in the Grand Angle section, Off Sides, is about an exchange trip for young hockey players from the Czech Republic and Morocco. The two teams not only meet on the ice, but also visit one another’s homes and families, creating a story filled with gentle and liberating humor. The directing duo, Rozálie Kohoutová and Tomáš Bojar, previously worked together on the film FC Roma (which won the best documentary in the Czech Joy competition at the Ji.hlava IDFF in 2016). Tomáš Bojar produced the project through his company Cinema Arsenal, with international distribution handled by the Czech sales company Filmotor. The film received support from the Czech Film Fund in the amount of €30,969.

Female filmmakers are also behind other significant projects currently in the final phase of postproduction and awaiting their world premiere. Forman vs. Forman, by Helena Třeštíková, the “first lady of Czech documentary filmmaking,” is about the recently deceased Oscar-winning director Miloš Forman. Using unique archival footage, Třeštíková tells a personal tale set against the backdrop of dramatic historical change. The Czech company Negativ produced the picture in cooperation with Czech Television, the French company Alegria, and the broadcaster ARTE.

Following Topics From Mongolia to China to the South Pole

As this sketch of recently completed films suggests, Czech producers are increasingly looking beyond the borders of the Czech Republic to find intriguing documentary subjects.

Another debut filmmaker, in this case of U.S. origin, is Anji Sauvé Clubb, who is working with producer Alice Tabery of Cinepoint to complete her portrait of social and urban change in modern Mongolia. The story of Tumurbaatar offers broader context for the locals’ transition rom nomadism to urbanism and the associated crises of identity and economics. Nomad Meets the City is a Czech coproduction with the United States and Mongolia, and represents progressive trends in contemporary Czech documentary filmmaking.

China’s controversial one-child policy is the subject of the second feature film by Tomáš Etzler, The Heaven, produced by Jan Macola through his company Mimesis Film (Inside the War on ISIS, Normal Autistic Film). The film’s director has been in China as a correspondent for CNN and Czech Television for over a decade, documenting the stories of handicapped children whose parents abandoned them in the hopes of bearing new, healthy children, who will care for them in their old age.

The documentary essay FREM pivots to take us first on an Arctic exhibition, then to New Zealand, with Slovak director Viera Čákanyová, working in cooperation with Hypermarket Film and the Slovak Punkchart films. One of the most agile documentary production companies in the Czech Republic, Hypermarket Film, and its founders Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda, are currently completing their next work, Pepik the Czech Goes to Poland in a Quest for Love of God, in which their company figures as coproducer alongside Vernes and its producers Jana Brožková and FAMU dean Zdeněk Holý. The relaxed, summer trek through Poland deals with the varying views on religion held by Czechs and Poles, which, despite their geographical and cultural proximity, could not be more different.

Intergenerational Connections

Despite what some might expect, there is close contact between the different generations of filmmakers in the Czech Republic. Established filmmakers like Karel Vachek, Helena Třeštíková, Vít Klusák, and Filip Remunda have been teaching documentary filmmaking at FAMU for many years, directly influencing their emerging peers. Often they even collaborate on the projects of their younger counterparts, whether as script consultants or in other roles.

That is the case for the newly completed Caught in the Net, a joint project by Klusák and FAMU student Barbora Chalupová. In this social experiment, the filmmakers open up the subject of online child abuse, using young girls’ profiles to communicate with virtual predators, and actually meet some of them. The Czech company Hypermarket Film is producing the project in coproduction with Peter Kerekes Film of Slovakia, and has plans to tie in educational activities to engender a nationwide discussion of the issue.

Another film by an experienced director that will soon benready for distribution is Over the Hills, a road-movieabout fatherhood and growing up, by director MartinnMareček and producer Petr Oukropec of Negativ. Thenfilm, a coproduction with HBO Europe, should be out in summer of this year.

The above-mentioned films are currently in postproduction and will soon be ready for Czech and international distribution. Even this overview makes clear the recent trends in Czech documentary filmmaking, where beginning directors, women and men alike, seek out opportunities for foreign coproductions, and often travel far beyond the borders in search of subject matter. Documentaries coming out of the Czech Republic are calling out for attention ever more loudly, and these upcoming projects deserve every bit they get.

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