21 July 2023
In the landscape of Czech cinema, Ondřej Erban and Vojtěch Strakatý are emerging as the voices representing the young generation. Both filmmakers employ a mix of civic realism and genre flexibility in their work. Their narratives, rooted in societal observations, offer a departure from conventional plots anchored by genre norms, reflecting the experiences and challenges of contemporary young adults. As cinematic storytelling evolves, Erban and Strakatý provide insights into the current generation's perspectives and concerns.
Article by Martin Kudláč for CZECH FILM / Fall 2023
Ondřej Erban: Redefining social realism
Ondřej Erban, a rising talent from the Czech Republic's youngest generation of filmmakers, continues to distinguish himself with his socially critical lens and signature brand of social realism. Erban's background at Prague's FAMU, his master's in Media Studies from Charles University, and his experience as a web editor at Czech Television have informed his narrative construction and understanding of character development.
Erban's FAMU journey birthed three short films, Adnan (2016), One Hundred and Twenty-Eight Thousand (2018) and Opponent (2020). The films also mark the beginning of a creative partnership between Erban and cinematographer David Hofmann, who has lensed all of Erban's works to date. The socially critical nature of the films, best seen in Erban's exploration of the debt spiral in One Hundred and Twenty-Eight Thousand and the perils of gambling in Opponent, strikes a balance between suspense and moral commentary.
One Hundred and Twenty-Eight Thousand, which secured a spot in the prestigious Cinéfondation at the Cannes Film Festival, was shortlisted for a BAFTA, and won the Magnesia Award for Best Student Film of the year, demonstrates Erban's proficiency in narrative construction and character development. The story revolves around the dire consequences of a debt trap, which gradually strips debtors of their possessions and homes.
Erban's short film scrutinizes the invasive process of repossession as a young, single mother is deprived of basic dignity by two repo men. Unlike traditional narratives that view this process from the debtor's perspective, the Czech director observes the proceedings through the eyes of the repo men, creating a tense, conflicted atmosphere when the woman faces the loss of her last means of basic existence. The film's title references the sum she owes, but only a small portion constitutes the actual debt, as compound execution fees amass the majority of her financial burden.
Opponent addresses a related issue that is increasingly prevalent among professional athletes. The story revolves around a washed-up football star whose gambling addiction endangers his existence and those closest to him. The coach, willing to offer a second chance, confines him to an apartment under a strict regimen in order to prevent a relapse. As the effects of withdrawal intensify, they increasingly test the footballer's resolve. Both films showcase Erban's talent for crafting suspenseful narratives around challenging dire social situations without resorting to moralizing.
Following his short films' early successes, Erban's feature-length debut, Near / Far, is currently in production. The film is being produced by the same Czech company, Shore Points (Domestique, BANGER.), that worked on Opponent, with award-winning producer Ivan Ostrochovský (Servants, 107 Mothers) stepping in for Slovakia. Principal photography is slated for August-September 2024, and the director plans to enhance the authenticity that characterizes his work, replacing rigidly rehearsed scenes with spontaneous, unrehearsed actor interactions and single, long-take shots that mimic a documentary style.
Near / Far is a chamber drama focusing on a crisis of masculinity, featuring a former film star, David, as he reconnects with his estranged son following his mother's tragic death. The story centers around their complex relationship and shared struggle to express their emotions. This project, which is supported by the Czech Film Fund (€276,000) and has been selected for the 2021 edition of the Czech Film Springboard industry initiative, as well as for the MIDPOINT Intensive workshop, tackles the theme of toxic masculinity within the context of a coming-of-middle-age narrative. In his debut, Erban continues to develop his signature brand of revised social realism, aligning the aesthetic with that of Belgian filmmaking brothers Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne and their verité drama Rosetta. The director expects to complete the rough cut by spring 2025.
Alongside this feature debut, Erban is developing his second full-length film, Two Hundred and Fifty-Six Thousand, a sequel to his acclaimed short film. This project expands upon the social realism of its predecessor, incorporating lo-fi surrealism through "normalizing the abnormal" and transcending social conventions. The plot centers around a single mother and her teenage daughter coping with severe financial struggles, with stylistic influences drawn from HBO's Euphoria and Donald Glover's series Atlanta. With Hofmann slated as director of photography, the shooting is preliminarily set for autumn 2026.
Parallelly to his auteur project, Erban has been hired to pen and helm a documentary portrait, Victory, about the Czech MMA fighter Jiří Procházka for Czech company Bionaut. The documentary shot for the theatrical release is already in production and echoes the mainstream docu-portraits Amy by Asif Kapadia and The Last Dance by Jason Hehir.
Gearing up for the next phase of his auteur career, this ambitious young director is simultaneously crafting two scripts designed to delve into the worldview of young adults as they grapple with the so-called quarter-life crisis. Regular is set against the backdrop of a provincial skating community, while omEma chronicles the self-discovery of a small-town girl in a bustling big city. Erban intends to spotlight the unique trials and tribulations of modern young adults and their unique outlook on the world and on life.
Vojtěch Strakatý: Genre-baiting indie spirit
Emerging from the world of indie filmmaking, Vojtěch Strakatý is carving out a place for himself in feature-length cinema. His educational journey at the Film Academy of Miroslav Ondříček (FAMO) laid the foundation for his ventures in the film industry. Strakatý first came to the fore with his notable short film, Stuck. This summer (anti-)romance and coming-of-age tale innovatively addressed its genre, steering clear of established norms.
Strakatý's experience isn't limited to direction; he's been an integral part of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival's industry section, catering to film professionals. Moreover, his role as an assistant director on Michal Hogenauer's fiction feature debut, the Hanekenian social thriller A Certain Kind of Silence, helped him build a fruitful working relationship with Hogenauer. Their mutual collaboration transcends mere generational synergy.
In his films, Strakatý crafts a distinct voice, blending civic realism with layered stylistics within an indie cinema. He focuses on magnifying everyday moments, presenting them as noteworthy events. This approach is evident in the way he challenges genre conventions, especially through the portrayal of his female protagonists. These characters, central to his works, provide unique perspectives that offer a fresh approach to characterization.
His feature-length project Eternal Peace was introduced at the 2019 Czech Film Springboard industry initiative, spotlighting promising domestic works in development for international professionals. It is now in its post-production phase under the aegis of producer Marek Novák from Xova Film, the company responsible for the Venice-premiered, civil pre-apocalyptic drama Ordinary Failures.
Eternal Peace has evolved from its original genre of dystopian drama, instead taking on the form of a family drama, which has always been at the story's core. The film draws on the director's personal experience of a debt-ridden father, though Strakatý emphasizes his intent to craft a fiction grounded in reality, not a straightforward autobiography.
Strakatý's potential was recognized early on, as he won an award from the Czech Film Foundation in the Stars of Tomorrow category in 2018 and secured support from the Czech Film Fund. Eternal Peace's dramatic intensity and its clever condensation of the saga of a family undergoing foreclosure particularly intrigued producer Marek Novák.
The film follows Jindřiška, a 23-year-old woman whose world unravels as she grapples with her father's crippling debt. Her once carefree existence is shattered when her family's assets, including their home, are seized, thrusting her into a decision-making whirlwind. The narrative unfolds over a single day, making Strakatý's debut feature a compelling exploration of familial obligations, personal survival, and the crushing burden of financial ruin. Shot on location in the satellite towns around Prague, Eternal Peace captures real-world scenery in its visual narrative, emphasizing a minimalist portrayal of characters and utilizing improvisation for realism.
The film's post-production phase follows a tight filming schedule that lasted just 14 days in late 2022. With a budget of approximately €360,000, the film largely owes its financing to the Czech Film Fund, which contributed €208,000 (for production). Discussions regarding a sales agent and distribution are currently underway, as the film will be finished in autumn 2023 and will begin its festival run during the 2023/2024 winter season.
While the finishing touches are being put on Eternal Peace, Strakatý is already in full swing on his sophomore feature, The Other Side of Summer, which has just wrapped pre-production and will shoot in August-September 2023. The director is once again aiming to subvert a genre that often falls victim to clichés and worn-out motifs.
Set within the quiet simplicity of a summer getaway, the narrative orbits around two 15-year-old friends, Bětka and Alma. However, Strakatý transcends the trite themes of adolescence and longing, plunging into the fantastical while maintaining a tether to reality. At its essence, the movie wrestles with our unending search for something more and scrutinizes the perennial human adage: is the grass truly greener on the other side?
The Other Side of Summer questions the human condition, casting a whimsical light on our ceaseless longing for the unknown; the film is set to emerge as a poignant portrayal of adolescence, friendship, and desire, marrying the ordinary with the extraordinary in an exceptional blend of reality and fantasy.
Strakatý teamed up with another young Czech producer, Ondřej Lukeš, for this Czech-Croatian collaboration. The Other Side of Summer will wrap filming in September 2023, and post-production is expected to run through October 2024. Its festival debut is slated for February 2025, followed by a domestic release in June 2025.
Supported by Czech Television, UPP, distributor Aerofilms, the Pardubice Region, and the municipality of Seč, the film also has international backing from Croatian coproducer Wolfgang & Dolly. The producer is looking for potential festival showcases and preliminary interest from streamers, while planning to meet with sales agents at the international industry events.