02 February 2024
In its seven years of existence, the Czech Film Springboard has established itself as an influential platform fostering emerging Czech talent and propelling Czech work onto the global stage. Bringing together Czech filmmakers and international industry professionals to create opportunities for collaboration and exposure, the initiative has a track record of launching projects that showcase the up-and-coming talents of Czech cinema, not only appearing but triumphing in prestigious festivals worldwide, securing theatrical release outside of Central and Eastern Europe.
Written by Martin Kudláč for CZECH FILM / Spring 2024
Since its launch in 2016, the Czech Film Springboard has emerged as a key initiative for the nurturing and uplifting of Czech film talent. Organized as a collaborative effort between the Czech Film Fund (through its international division, the Czech Film Center) and the Finále Plzeň film festival, the Springboard showcases carefully chosen projects in various stages of development. Producers and directors present to a group of international industry experts from various sectors: coproduction markets, festivals, training initiatives, sales agents, and producers. The initiative provides the projects with significant exposure and useful feedback, as well as networking opportunities.
The Springboard aims to draw the attention of prominent international experts to these well-curated Czech projects and serve as
a proving ground for the projects to assess their potential in the global cinema market. “Attending the Czech Film Springboard in Plzeň for years, I’ve certainly become more aware of the Czech films and filmmakers to keep an eye on. 2023 has been a great year for Czech films, as we selected two debuts but also pushed Her Body to be in our festival. We believe these filmmakers are great storytellers, and we are excited to see what they bring to the table next,” said Triin Tramberg, who serves as programmer of the First Feature Competition and managing director of the Discovery Campus at the Black Nights Film Festival in Tallinn, Estonia.
One of the Springboard’s recent success stories is Natálie Císařovská’s feature-length debut, Her Body, from the 2019 cohort. The film, set to make its world premiere at Tallinn’s A-list Black Nights festival, unflinchingly yet impartially chronicles the extraordinary life of Andrea Absolonová, tracing her journey from professional athlete to adult film star. The biopic thoughtfully explores the themes of women’s bodily autonomy, agency, and societal norms.
The lead role in Her Body is played by Slovak actress Natália Germáni, already familiar to international audiences from the folk horror drama Nightsiren. Directed by Tereza Nvotová, Nightsiren won the Golden Leopard award at the Locarno Film Festival and had
a limited theatrical release in North America, Japan, and South Korea—exciting new territory for Czech cinema. Nvotová, an alumnus of the inaugural Springboard in 2016 with her fiction debut Filthy, continues to make waves. Her 2017 work Filthy, a powerful drama about a rape victim, premiered at the International Film Festival Rotterdam’s Bright Future section and garnered 14 international awards.
Currently, Nvotová is in preproduction on her third fiction feature, Father, inspired by the true story of an infant’s tragic death in
a locked car. The film is supported by the Czech Film Fund, the Slovak Audiovisual Fund, and the Polish Film Institute, and is scheduled to shoot in January and July 2024, with a 2025 release. Along with her work for the big screen, Nvotová is also engaged in TV, currently making a true crime miniseries titled Our People, about the notorious murder of Slovak journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová, in February 2018.
The most ambitious Czech project of recent years also got its start via the Springboard showcase: Robert Hloz’s feature debut, the retrofuturist cyberpunk drama Restore Point. Following its world premiere in the summer of 2023, the film quickly earned the moniker “Czech Blade Runner.” Besides making the rounds of the world’s major genre film festivals, including Neuchatel, Sitges, Fantasia, and Fantastic Fest, Restore Point also featured at various international non-genre festivals and generated substantial industry buzz even before its premiere, being selected as one of the Fantastic 7 genre films at Cannes’s Marché du Film. With US sales agent XYZ Films handling distribution, Hloz’s debut has been sold to multiple territories, including Germany, Switzerland, Scandinavia, France, Australia, and New Zealand.
Another emerging talent highlighted thanks to the Czech Film Springboard is independent filmmaker Vojtěch Strakatý. His 2019 Springboard project Eternal Peace is a family drama that takes place over a single day, as a 23-year-old woman attempts to deal with her father’s overwhelming debt. Strakatý completed his feature-length debut in the fall of 2023, and the film is poised to hit the festival circuit in 2024. Concurrently, Strakatý also shot his second feature in 2023, The Other Side of Summer, a psychological drama with fantasy elements. Aiming to challenge genre conventions, the film tells the story of friends Bětka and Alma, who encounter
a mysterious pond that can transport them anywhere, sparking a quest for adventure before Alma leaves for school abroad. The film is expected to be completed by fall 2024.
The 2022 Venice Film Festival hosted the world premiere of Cristina Grosan’s Ordinary Failures, pitched at the Springboard alongside Her Body. Grosan’s second feature, a dystopian psychological portmanteau, explores the lives of female protagonists from three different generations. The film has screened at various European festivals and was introduced to US audiences at Frameline, the annual San Francisco International LGBTQ+ Film Festival, as well as the Liszt Institute in New York. Following its run on the festival circuit, where it garnered acclaim for its script and production design, Ordinary Failures found a home on Netflix.
Even before he took part in Springboard, the Slovenian-born, Prague-based filmmaker Olmo Omerzu had already made a name for himself as a promising talent with Winter Flies, released in 2018. This coming-of-age road movie, with its unique perspective on growing up and masculinity, has traveled to film festivals in Europe, the US, Egypt, Canada, India, and China. The Czech Republic submitted the film for an Oscar nomination, and it was a huge success at the Czech Lion Awards, securing the majority of its 10 nominations, including Best Film and Best Script. Omerzu walked away with the trophy for Best Director, adding a Czech Lion to his previous accolade from the Czech Film Critics Awards.
Since then, Omerzu has completed and premiered Bird Atlas, a family drama about romantic scammers. Right now, he is preparing for the 2024 production of Ungrateful Beings, a dark coming-of-age drama that delves into the complex theme of failed parenthood and the tumultuous relationship between a daughter and her father.
The Czech Film Springboard not only serves to spotlight debut filmmakers but also to nurture early-career talents. Petr Kazda and Tomáš Weinreb, who rose to international acclaim with their impactful debut, I, Olga Hepnarova, are a great example of this. Kazda and Weinreb’s true-crime period bio-pic, doubling as an existential drama, told the story of the last woman executed in Czechoslovakia for mass murder, and became one of the most internationally successful Czech pictures of recent times. It enjoyed tremendous success on the international circuit, screening at 90 festivals worldwide and winning numerous awards, including best film, director, and actress. This overwhelmingly positive reception led to theatrical release in over 13 territories and availability on global streaming platforms like Netflix, MUBI, and Amazon, setting high expectations for the directing duo’s follow-up project, Nobody Likes Me. After debuting at the 2017 Springboard, Nobody Likes Me is now completed and awaiting the world premiere, with a domestic theatrical release slated for July 2024. Regarded as a spiritual successor to I, Olga Hepnarova, the film employs a highly cinematic language to address themes of social nonconformity, intolerance, and intersexuality.
Kazda and Weinreb are currently working on their third collaborative feature, The Forest, with producer Tomáš Hrubý and French partner Guillaume de Seille. This film, about a sawmill owner who finds himself on a destructive path after a hurricane, represents a new narrative direction for the pair, blending complex, plot-driven storytelling with their established poetic style. Supported by the Czech Film Fund and selected for Cannes’s L'Atelier program, The Forest will be shot on 35mm, reflecting the directors’ evolving approach to environmental and capitalist themes.
The 2017 edition of the Springboard also highlighted a unique project by internationally recognized filmmaker Mira Fornay. Initially titled Frog With No Tongues, it was rebranded for international release as Cook F**k Kill. After failing to secure funding from the Slovak Audiovisual Fund, Fornay transformed the project into a Czech-majority film, with veteran Czech producer Viktor Schwarcz of Cineart TV Prague, and secured support from the Czech Film Fund and Eurimages. Cook F**k Kill, a departure in style and substance from the director’s previous works, maintains realism while delving into domestic violence. Set against a surreal time-loop narrative, it explores the psyche of Jaroslav K., a character entwined in a cycle of abuse. Fornay’s latest film, combining docu-realist cinematography with surreal elements to address societal pathologies with dark humor, promises to be his most challenging and innovative work to date.
Meanwhile, Springboard also features works from more experienced industry professionals. Director and producer Václav Kadrnka, known for his contemplative style, introduced Saving One Who Was Dead at the 2017 edition of the event. This introspective, spiritual auteur drama, inspired by family experiences and set in the corridors of a hospital, concludes the director’s loose trilogy Absence of
a Loved One. Post-Springboard, the project toured the industry circuit, appearing at coproduction markets including MIA Market Rome, Sofia Meetings, European Work in Progress, and HAF Work in Progress, before being featured in festivals across Europe and beyond.
Representing another type of dive into the human psyche is the Czech adaptation of Joseph Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, directed by theater director and filmmaker David Jařab. Titled Snake Gas, the movie employs elements of mystery to delve into environmentalism, immigration, social norms, wealth, and the dichotomy between refugees and invaders. The film premiered at the 57th edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.
The Springboard demonstrates the diversity of independent Czech cinema. Jan Prušinovský, a director renowned for his small- and big-screen comedies alike, first gained international recognition with the social realist dramedy The Snake Brothers but is best known for his politically incorrect miniseries Most!, a blend of comedy and social drama that was Czech Television’s most talked about show of 2019. His 2018 Springboard entry, Emma in Love, combined romance and rural comedy to explore how a young couple’s relationship is derailed by amateur pornography. The film was later streamed on Apple TV. Following this chamber piece, Prušinovský embarked on his most ambitious project to date, Grand Prix, a raucous road comedy. In addition to adapting his hit series Most! for Hungarian television, Prušinovský just finished season two of the TV comedy Good Morning, Brno! and adapting for the big screen the Natalie Kocab play The Night Before the Funeral, a black comedy about a family dinner on the eve of a funeral.
Noteworthy alumni of the Springboard initiative include two sports-themed films and a romantic drama. Tomáš Hodan’s The Last Race is a period bio-pic recounting the true story of a 1913 ski race, while Tomáš Polenský’s The Pack takes on the issue of bullying on a Czech junior hockey team in contemporary youth cinema style. In a different vein, Foukal’s Two Ships is a tragic romance inspired by
a collection of poems by musician Martin Kyšperský and his then-girlfriend, psychologist Alena Černá. This tragic romance traces their relationship’s evolution from its inception to its sudden and heartbreaking conclusion. Černá’s unexplained stomach pains, which appear to be psychosomatic in origin, become a central plot point, mirroring real-life events in the relationship between Kyšperský and Černá, who tragically passed away in 2016.
At the moment, a new slate of Springboard projects is readying for production. Newcomer Adam Martinec is shooting Pig Slaughter,
a drama of family secrets that unfolds on an old farmstead during a traditional pig roast. Martinec’s script won the 2023 Film Foundation award for best unproduced Czech script in the Stars of Tomorrow category. The project is part of KVIFF Talents, fostering new filmmakers, and is set for theatrical release in fall 2024, produced by Matěj Paclík of Breathless Films. Meanwhile, Ondřej Erban, another emerging talent, is working on his debut, Near/Far, a chamber drama about masculinity and father-son relationships, with filming set for summer 2024. Director Tomáš Hubáček is close to shooting on Wirbel, a personal discovery story, planned for release in fall 2024 and currently seeking sales agents, distributors, and festival opportunities. And actor-turned-director Jiří Mádl has recently wrapped shooting on his third feature, Waves. Set in 1967–68 Czechoslovakia, it combines historical events with a personal narrative, featuring innovative filming techniques. Currently in postproduction, the film is slated for domestic premiere in fall 2024.
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