ENDORFILM: Global arthouse hits in the making

31 March 2020

Introducing

ENDORFILM: Global arthouse hits in the making

Introducing

ENDORFILM: Global arthouse hits in the making

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Czech production company on a mission to deliver independent auteur films with “added value”.

Article by Martin Kudláč for Czech Film magazine / Spring 2020

With 2019 marking the 30th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution, Czech and Slovak cinema converged to commemorate this historic milestone. Among the works reflecting the fall of communism and the ensuing three decades of freedom are the fiction features Amnesty, by Slovak director Jonáš Karásek, and Old-Timers, cowritten and codirected by Czech documentarists Martin Dušek and Ondřej Provazník.

Both films — the first, a glossy political thriller for the younger, multiplex crowd; the second, a revenge road movie subverting the genre while addressing issues of crime, punishment, justice, and aging with a dose of dark humor for the arthouse audience — share the name of Jiří Konečný, a producer with the Czech independent production outfit endorfilm.

“Challenging and Silly

Konečný is one of those younger Czech producers whose work is known and recognized beyond his home turf. Considering the range of its productions, endorfilm can be labeled “an orthodox arthouse,” with more than 100 international awards and 6 Oscar nominations to its credit. Konečný, the company’s founder and sole producer, says he regards filmmaking as a nonprofit activity for the production of cultural goods. “I choose the path of greater independence and optimized fixed costs so that I can work freely,” Konečný told Czech Film magazine, explaining why he rarely takes on commercial gigs, despite operating in an environment where idealism frequently clashes with pragmatism.

 “To combine and fine-tune challenging and silly” is the producer’s motto and the philosophy behind his films. Konečný says he named his company after the euphoria-producing hormone, though it is also a cryptic reference to the motivational ethos of “end-or-film” (and he is also a fan of Ewoks, who come from the planet Endor). The spirit of that attitude is fully captured in Old-Timers, as it also was, for example, in Koza (2015), a film the producer calls a “wild” weaving together of challenging and silly. At the end of the day, Konečný says, endorfilm’s mission is to produce high-quality films that amount to “cultural goods with added value.”

Discoveries and Experiments

Apart from specializing in daring and thought-provoking projects, the company is also a haven for first-time feature-length directors. Careers have launched and swerved under Konečný’s tutelage. Olmo Omerzu, the Slovenian-born, Prague-based writer-director, got his start when endorfilm produced his graduation film, A Night Too Young (2012), an intimate coming-of-age story. “I don’t want to keep on doing the same things; I want to discover new things,” says Konečný, explaining his predilection for newcomers.

Koza, the fiction feature debut by established Slovak producer and documentarist Ivan Ostrochovský, fits the endorfilm mold perfectly: a dry comedy–sports docudrama–biography–social realist drama all rolled into one. Balancing on the edge between fact and fiction, while defying the conventions of a boxing drama, Koza paid off, reaping awards in Vilnius, Wiesbaden, Brazil, Pula, Warsaw, and Mar del Plata, before ultimately landing in the catalog of Filmatique, a VOD streaming platform dedicated to discovering and curating new talents in world cinema for U.S. and Canadian audiences.

The very first production on endorfilm’s bill was Riedgost (2002), a feature-length triptych about alienation and disillusion, by the young Czech directors Tomáš Doruška, Bohdan Sláma, and Pavel Göbl. Other promising domestic talents soon joined the company’s ranks, including Vít Pancíř, with Sister (2008), based on the novel by famous Czech writer Jáchym Topol; Dagmar Smržová, mapping the life of a schizophrenic in Story of Mr. Love (2013); and Pavel Štingl, exploring the history of eugenics in Eugenic Minds (2014).

Reflecting the company’s weirder side is the absurd tragicomedy Rail Yard Blues (2006), codirected by Pavel Göbl and Roman Švejda, while Dan Přibáň’s travelogue cycle featuring the notorious East German Trabant automobile — Trabant vs. South America (2014), Trabant: From Australia to Bangkok (2016), and Trabant: There and Back Again (2019) — also stands out as a deviation from endorfilm’s trademark product. Konečný admits this widely popular series is the antithesis of “a festival film,” but says audiences took it as a genre film with, again, “added value.” Eventually, the Trabant films found their way into the local catalog of the streaming giant Netflix.

Konečný also maintains warm professional ties with neighboring Slovakia, having coproduced Out, an ambitious project by promising talent Györgi Kristóf. A social realist East European road movie with an absurdist bent, Out premiered in Un Certain Regard on La Croisette. Iveta Grófová is another filmmaker who started her career under endorfilm’s wing. Her first feature-length fiction outing, Made in Ash (2012), defied formalistic borders, seamlessly fusing fiction, documentary, and animation elements. Konečný then coproduced Grófová’s Crystal Bear-winning sophomore feature, Little Harbour (2017). The company’s roster also includes the debut effort by critically acclaimed Slovak photographer Martin Kollár, 5 October (2017), an intimate docu-diary cum visual essay.

Nor does endorfilm confine its activities to any particular region. Among the foreign projects Konečný has taken on is Aferim! (2015), a tragicomic drama on the taboo subject of Roma slavery in 19th-century Romania. This critically lauded work by the leading figure of the Romanian New Wave, Radu Jude, was the first collaboration between the Czech Republic and Romania. Aferim! became the most-seen Romanian film the year it was released, and won 13 Gopos, the Romanian national film awards. This collaborative success continued with Jude’s next intriguing project, “I Do Not Care If We Go Down in History as Barbarians” (2018), the Crystal Globe–winning black comedy selected as Romania’s nomination to the 91st Academy Awards. And the cherry to top it all off is Hungarian director Gyula Nemes’s anarchistic caricature, Zero, starring the cult actor Udo Kier.

Artist and Producer

Konečný is in the filmmaking business for the long run, and prefers working on projects that last a long time. The first of the two writer-directors in his inner circle is Olmo Omerzu. After Omerzu’s A Night Too Young, the creative team finished his Family Film (2015), a coming-of-age drama defying preconceived notions about the genre while including an episode of canine Robinsonade (Bryan Singer noted that he had never before seen such an impressive performance by a dog). Their most recent project, Winter Flies (2018), is yet another multilayered drama with child protagonists, and has been widely lauded.

Karel Och, director of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, cites the Konečný-Omerzu team as a particularly successful example of collaboration in the Czech film industry, saying, “It is more than just a professional partnership, and is more of a long-term camaraderie — the coupling of two artists, two personalities.”*

This also points to why Konečný is not fixated on hitting box-office numbers, but instead on high-quality productions that make a lasting impression. If a film is good, it will find an audience—that is his working assumption. Ultimately, he says, his desire is to make “a global hit” on the scale of Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War — a major feat for any small-country cinema.

Near Future and New Chapter

The year 2019 marks Konečný’s two-decade anniversary as an independent producer. He describes it as the end of endorfilm’s first chapter as he prepares to digitalize all the projects they’ve produced and rethink the company’s conceptual direction before entering the new chapter. But this doesn’t mean a slowdown in pace.

Shooting on Omerzu’s next film, Admin, gets underway in January 2020 — again, an international coproduction, with Slovakia, Slovenia, and Germany. But this time Omerzu leaves behind the world of adolescents in favor of adult topics, as Admin, a drama underlaid with irony, revolves around the generation gap, globalization, cybercrime, and the stark confrontation between pragmatism and romanticism.

Meanwhile Erika Hníková, the other writer-director in endorfilm’s inner circle, has returned to Slovakia (where she made her previous documentary, Matchmaking Mayor [2010], with Konečný) to shoot her latest project, Every Single Minute, about Kamevéda (Complex Multidevelopmental Education for Children), an educational method designed to produce “world champions.” As in her previous endorfilm-produced docufeature, The Beauty Exchange (2004), again Hníková explores the big questions — this time about parents, their offspring, and family values.

Also in the works from endorfilm is This Is Havel Speaking, Can You Hear Me?, a documentary by Petr Jančárek mapping the last two years in the life of the revered playwright and statesman Václav Havel. And last but not least on Konečný’s busy schedule is a new feature by Ondřej Provazník of Old-Timers: Currently in in the development stage, the sibling drama The Choirmaster addresses the sensitive and widespread issue of sexual abuse of adolescents by powerful men.

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