Negativ shows no sign of wear and tear

16 October 2019

Introducing

Negativ shows no sign of wear and tear

Introducing

Negativ shows no sign of wear and tear

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50 projects, 120+ festival accolades, 25 years in the business, 1 company.

Article by Martin Kudláč for CZECH FILM magazine / Fall 2019

The Prague-based production company Negativ and its crew of producers have lately been busy launching their latest works. In the 54th edition of the biggest Czech film gathering, Karlovy Vary IFF, Negativ´s (co)production projects featured in all three competition sections. The anticipated second fiction feature Let There Be Light by established Slovak filmmaker Marko Škop had its world premiere in the main competition, netting the Best Actor Award and a special commendation from the Ecumenical jury. Škop´s latest contemporary socio-psychological drama revolves around the themes of fatherhood, right-wing extremism and clerico-fascism.

The East of the West competition presented the feature debut A Certain Kind of Silence by a rising talent, Michal Hogenauer. Negativ produced this social thriller about manipulation in an international co-production with the Netherlands and Latvia. Over the Hills, the latest project by the award-winning documentarist Martin Mareček, a docu-road-movie that tackles the topic of parenthood through the prism of a separated Czech-Russian family, was unveiled in the Documentary Films Competition. In addition, Negativ brought to the spa town of Karlovy Vary a touching portrait of one of the most internationally acclaimed Czech filmmakers, Forman vs Forman. The documentary premiered in the Cannes Classics sidebar at La Croisette earlier and was shot by the directing tandem of Jakub Hejna and the esteemed Czech documentarist (and Negativ stalwart), Helena Třeštíková.

The extraordinary crop of premieres took place symbolically at the time of an important milestone as the company celebrated its 25th anniversary.

A fixture in independent Czech cinema

In 1994, student Saša Gedeon completed his graduation film Indian Summer with his FAMU colleagues. Surprisingly enough, they managed to release the film into local theatrical distribution. Audience numbers eventually reached 100,000 and Indian Summer went on to do the film festival circuit. “It was not a calculation; we knew nothing about filmmaking or film production. We simply wanted to make a film and we intuitively believed in the director’s immense talent,” recalls Petr Oukropec, one of the producers behind Indian Summer. Gedeon´s debut marks the beginnings of Negativ and the laying of its foundations even though the company didn’t formally come into existence until November 28, 1995, when it was officially registered by Oukropec and Pavel Strnad, his co-producing colleague on the student film. “[Founding the company] was a natural continuation of our collaboration on Indian Summer and our need for independence,” adds Oukropec.

He noted that in the early days determination, will and love of cinema were the crucial driving forces:  “We succumbed to the magic of film, of celluloid and the whole process of making a film”. Indian Summer was made one year after the peaceful dissolution of Czechoslovakia and five years after the Velvet Revolution, at the start of a new chapter in the history of the Czech Republic. After the student film, Oukropec and Strnad reflected on their experience while considering the best way to continue. They looked for inspiration beyond the country’s borders. “Czech cinema was going through an unfettered transformation and producers in the current sense of the word did not exist in this country at that time,” comments the Negativ co-founder on the beginnings of the company and independent Czech cinema. However, their initial sights were set on auteur-driven cinema and a filmmaker with vision.

Despite their early success and enthusiasm, the first steps were not easy for the two emerging producers. They started working for Jakub Mejdřický of PP Production during the 90s, producing large-scale cultural and commercial events. At this time, Strnad and Oukropec worked just to earn a living and learn, while films remained a hobby and something “quite risky, as it was not easy to find financing for films”. In 1999 Return of the Idiot, Saša Gedeon´s second feature film inspired by Dostoevsky’s The Idiot, proved to be the turning point and cinema became the two young producers’ sole focus.

Mejdřický left Negativ in 1999 and the founders welcomed new blood in 2000. Kateřina Černá arrived as a seasoned professional who had worked in the industry in Germany and Belgium. Her major focus has been documentary film and she has become the court producer of the critically acclaimed and award-winning documentarist Helena Třeštíková. Besides working on some 90 documentary projects and over 60 commercials and music videos, Černá has produced Marian, the feature-length directing debut of today's most prolific Czech filmmaker, Petr Vaclav.

The producer Milan Kuchynka was another newcomer bolstering the Negativ team. As a student at FAMU he had served as executive producer on the historical drama Želary, nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2004 and on Jan Hřebejk´s dramedies Pupendo and Up and Down. His first project with Negativ was Marek Najbrt´s film Champions (2004) and the company has worked with the director ever since. Kuchynka is drawn to the development of new formats and he has been delivering content for VoD platforms, in particular the popular domestic satirical web series The Office Blaník (from which there has already been a spin-off feature-length film with a commercial release).

Last year Kuchynka began working on an online television project backed by a Czech e-commerce giant. Černá and Kuchynka rose to the position of partners in the company in 2016. Growing from humble beginnings, Negativ has evolved into the leading producer of domestic independent cinema.

Fostering creative partnerships

With a quartet of producers at the heart of the company, a particular project is usually taken on by a team of two. “One producer is the main lead on a project, with the other complementing him or her,” says Oukropec, adding that each of the four comes with their own projects, seeking their colleagues' support for them. Černá continues to work mainly on documentaries although she does occasionally handle fiction projects, for example, the historical sports drama Fair Play. Besides web series, Kuchynka has worked on a project by one of the most inventive domestic directors Petr Zelenka, as well as on documentaries, including Peter Kerekes´s celebrated and critically acclaimed food-mentary Cooking History.

While the founders Oukropec and Strnad have not wavered in their loyalty to the directors they worked with at the beginning, each of them also follows their own trajectory and slate of projects. In addition to his producing duties, Pavel Strnad is the company´s financial manager and Petr Oukropec has carved a second career as a director in his own right focusing on stories for the young adult audience - Blue Tiger (produced by Strnad, Kuchynka and the director himself) and In Your Dreams (with Strnad and Oukropec producing).

Animated projects continue to be the company´s collective and most challenging enterprise. Oukropec cites the rotoscopic World War II graphic-novel adaptation Alois Nebel as the most difficult project they have worked on. The film won the European Film Award for a best animated feature in 2012. Negativ is currently bracing for the encore as they begin work on Michaela Pavlátová's animated feature-length project My Sunny Maad.

“We are guided by our own tastes,” replies Oukropec when asked what might be their key to picking projects for Negativ´s slate. He elaborates: “We are looking for quality texts and stories, ideally with an international production potential”. From the outset the company has fostered lasting and nurturing creative partnerships. Filmmakers such as Třeštíková, Pavlátová, Sláma, Najbrt or Zelenka are among Negativ's regulars. Nevertheless, the producers are always open to new and up-and-coming talents. Michal Hogenauer, Tereza Nvotová or Benjamin Tuček are just some of those on the roster of the company´s rising talents. In fact, Oukropec attributes the company´s brief brush with experimental and avant-garde production (Petr Marek´s Love From Above) to its interest in discovering new filmmakers and new forms.

By Oukropec´s own definition, Negativ´s profile is “quality arthouse”, i.e. films with an audience potential and aimed at existing markets. “The international success and impact of our films are important to us,” adds Negativ´s co-founder. And the company has a cabinet full of awards to fuel and substantiate that aspiration: two European Film Academy Awards for René and Alois Nebel and over 120 accolades collected from all over the festival circuit from Sao Paolo, Venice, San Sebastian, Seville, Montreal, Denver, Annecy and Tribeca.

Full steam ahead

After a quarter-century in the business, Negativ shows no signs of wear and tear. On the contrary, the company will meet the upcoming anniversary of their three decades in Czech cinema with a considerably bigger slate. An adaptation of National Street, a popular Czech novel produced by Pavel Strnad in a Czech-German co-production and directed by an upcoming talent, Štěpán Altrichter, will soon hit domestic cinemas. The timing could not be better, as the story reflects the changes in society 30 years after the Velvet Revolution.

In the vein of their recent award-winning Let There Be Light, other promising dramas by Slovak filmmakers are due in 2020, in the form of Negativ´s minority co-production projects. Slovak producer and director Ivan Ostrochovský will be introducing his expected second feature, the black and white historical drama The Disciple which focuses on Pacem im Terris, a group of clerics who willingly collaborated with the Communist regime. Power, another sophomore fiction feature by a producer-turned-director, Mátyás Prikler, will follow suit. With this story laying bare the machinery of political power in contemporary democracies, Negativ has taken on yet another socially-relevant drama Negativ.

Christian Schwochow´s latest drama Je Suis Karl presented at the Berlinale Co-Production Market earlier this year is another Negativ project in the making for 2020. Despite being busy producing, Petr Oukropec has managed to develop his third feature project, Martin and the Forest Secret, an adventure film for younger audiences.

In addition to projects scheduled for completion in the next two years, Negativ has three projects in development. These include Bohdan Sláma´s The Limits of Compassion (Hranice soucitu), a film that aims to investigate prejudice and racism in Czech society. Established Czech filmmaker Alice Nellis is preparing an adaptation of the award-winning historical novel The Expulsion of Gerta Schnirch, which highlights Czech and German guilt immediately after the war and the lives of Czech Germans on the fringes of society. And last but not least, 1938, directed by another Negativ regular, Marek Najbrt, will shed light on Czech history in the Sudetenland region in what the board of the Czech Film Fund called “a significant mainstream history film”.

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