MasterFilm: Kickstarting careers of future auteurs

15 October 2022

Film Industry Publications

MasterFilm: Kickstarting careers of future auteurs

Film Industry Publications

MasterFilm: Kickstarting careers of future auteurs


Czech independent arthouse outfit MasterFilm, led by a trio of young producers, has boosted the careers of several budding domestic auteurs, in the process building a rich roster of international award-winning films across genres and forms. Meanwhile, the producers have also established their reputation as credible partners for ambitious foreign projects.

written by Martin Kudláč for CZECH FILM / Fall 2022

One of the most highly anticipated Czech debuts at the moment is Caravan, which is currently in preproduction. The project is the first feature-length work by Cinéfondation winner Zuzana Kirchnerová, who has been working on series and documentary projects while developing her feature debut. Caravan will be a road movie, shot entirely in Italy, with the story revolving around a mother and her mentally disabled son.

After caring for her son David for 12 years, Ester is worn out. Visiting Italy on her own to see a friend promises an opportunity to escape the isolation and monotony, but when Ester is forced to take her son with her on the trip in an old camper van, she finds she can be more than just the mother of a disabled child.

Caravan is representative of the type of stories and films that MasterFilm is dedicated to. The company’s production values are based on authenticity, and their filmmakers are deeply engaged with their stories. The Prague-based independent production outfit was founded in 2011 by FAMU classmates Tomáš Michálek and Jakub Mahler, while Dagmar Sedláčková joined the burgeoning outfit shortly afterward.

New generation, new rules

Sedláčková, Michálek, and Mahler hail from the youngest generation of domestic producers, who together are accelerating a shift in the Czech audiovisual industry. Most of their projects are international coproductions, making their domestic production European-oriented. Additionally, they serve as minority coproducers on foreign works.

MasterFilm’s latest foreign project, Butterfly Vision, a coproduction with Ukraine, Croatia, and Sweden, premiered at Cannes this year in the Un Certain Regard section. The story is a grim, surreal Ukrainian tale about a victim who refuses to be considered one.

The producers at MasterFilm are mostly dedicated to debut and sophomore feature-film projects, discovering new talent and story ideas. Even more important, they are creatively invested in each project, working patiently with the filmmakers. In addition to seeking funds and organizing shoots, they actively participate in fleshing out ideas and contributing creative input to projects and concepts—a trait shared by most young Czech production outfits.

Broad bevy of stories and talents

Despite being a young independent company, MasterFilm already has a wide array of projects under its belt. Most of them have enjoyed a lively time on the international festival circuit.

The company’s documentary cluster is pretty diverse in its own right. The Dangerous World of Dr. Doleček (2015) creates a portrait of Rajko Doleček, an apologist for Ratko Mladić, who led the Serbian army during the Yugoslav wars and is a convicted war criminal. The film’s director, Kristýna Bartošová, is a Czech filmmaker with Bosnian roots. In a different vein, Jaroslav Kučera: A Portrait (2019) by Jakub Felcman and MasterFilm cofounder Tomáš Michálek offers a look at of one of the most important cinematographers in Czech history, who worked with leading directors of the Czechoslovak New Wave, including Vojtěch Jasný, Věra Chytilová, and Jan Němec. Another unusual portrait from the company, Blood, Sweat and Tears (2020), has Erik Knopp in his documentary directing debut following Rostislav Novák, the ringmaster of a new Czech circus troupe. Knopp ably captures the ringmaster’s will to overcome any obstacles. The other gem in MasterFilm’s documentary treasure chest is Tomáš Krupa’s feature-length debut, The Good Death (2018), which made the rounds of the festivals before being sold to several territories. In his film, Krupa looks at the taboo topic of euthanasia, or assisted suicide.

MasterFilm’s bundle of live-action fiction films features works by the rising director Tomáš Pavlíček, who as part of the company’s inner circle is one of its closest collaborators. Pavlíček’s directorial debut and MasterFilm’s inaugural title, the comedy Totally Talking, explores a six-month period in the life of a 25-year-old misfit, and premiered at Karlovy Vary. Pavlíček’s creative partnership with MasterFilm continued with his sophomore feature, Bear With Us (2018), yet another auteur comedy, this time revolving around a family that gets together just before selling off their beloved chalet. Over the course of a single evening, the decision triggers a merry-go-round of conflicts, disputes, and crises. The third Pavlíček–MasterFilm collaboration, Don’t Drink Our Blood, marks a minor detour in the director’s filmography. The film, about an 11-year-old convinced that his teacher is actually a vampire, is intended as a children’s adventure fairy tale.

Previously, the company worked on My Grandpa Is an Alien (2019), an adventure film for children, as a minority coproducer. The sci-fi family film was made in Croatian, Luxembourgian, Norwegian, Czech, Slovak, Slovenian, and Bosnian coproduction, and directed by Dražen Žarković and Marina Andree Škop. The child protagonist of the story attempts to save her grandfather from alien abduction, and in the process discovers he himself is an extraterrestrial.

MasterFilm also produces short films, a natural choice given that the company works primarily with emerging filmmakers. Past projects include Marek Berger’s short animation Shadow Over Prague (2016), a reimagination of the mysterious phantom avenger with spring-heeled shoes who allegedly fought Nazi Germans during their occupation of Czechoslovakia in World War II. Another was the animated short Fruits of Clouds (2017), written and directed by Kateřina Karhánková, who describes it as “trying to pass on the experience to others with the indulgence to their fears.” And last but not least, Reconstruction (2018), by the directorial tandem Jiří Havlíček and Ondřej Novák, depicted the fatal consequences of a cruel joke through a police reconstruction. The film screened in the Pardi di domani section of the Locarno Film Festival.

Despite being mainly a career-launching outfit for recent graduates and early-career filmmakers, MasterFilm boasts a career-wrapping project as well: Wolf From Royal Vineyard Street (2016), the Tomáš Michálek–produced experimental hybrid autobio-pic by Jan Němec, a pioneering director of the Czechoslovak New Wave. Wolf ended up being Němec’s swan song, as the film was finished posthumously after the director passed away in the midst of production.

European projects in progress

In addition to Caravan, MasterFilm has several more projects in the pipeline with international backing. Closest to being finalized is a project by up-and-coming Czech filmmaker Tomáš Klein. Klein, who was attached as the substitute director on Wolf From Royal Vineyard Street after Jan Němec died, is now tackling A Sensitive Person, preparing a loose adaptation of the award-winning novel by Jáchym Topol, often described as the greatest living Czech author.

The story centers on the complicated relationship between a father and his son. On their return to the Czech Republic to settle down after years of leading a nomadic lifestyle abroad, 12-year-old Elias and his family undergo a string of events that bring a turnabout in their fortunes. Elias, his dad, and his little brother go on the run, disguised as women. While trying to reach a hospital to be reunited with their mother, they encounter a variety of colorful locals and hear their dark life stories. Postproduction on the film is scheduled to wrap in early 2023 with domestic release already slated for mid-2023.

“The absurd chain of seemingly hopeless events in which Elias and his father repeatedly find themselves—even as they try to escape them—is intended to convey a detached viewpoint and a hint of irony. No sooner do they make it out of one crisis-riddled situation than they’re already embroiled in the next one. It’s like a fever dream, portrayed by way of a harsh, even cynical, black humor, which offers the audience a chance for cathartic laughter,” explained Michálek. He is handling producing duties on the Czech-Slovak project, which was given support by the Czech Film Fund.

Another MasterFilm project now in early development is The Thirty-Seventh Kilometre, a coming-of-age drama with mystery thriller elements. Produced by Sedláčková, the project marks the directorial debut of Minsk-born Prague-based writer-director Sasha Stelchenko. The project will be introduced at this year’s Czech Film Springboard (read more on page 16).

Next, Sedláčková is readying the feature-length debut Recognition, a continuation of MasterFilm’s collaboration with Ondřej Novák, who codirected the short film Reconstruction. In this family drama with a road movie structure, Karel the protagonist travels to Italy to try to discover his origins, having been abandoned by his father as a child. Loosely inspired by the director’s own experiences, the story, he says, “explores the human understanding of predestination and fate, in contrast to entropy and the cruel randomness of the universe, which we struggle to accept, given its lack of meaning for us.” Novák shares that his artistic references in making the film were the works of Nuri Bilge Ceylan and Andrey Zvyagintsev. The project received support from the Czech Film Fund and will be made as a three-way coproduction with Slovakia and Italy. Release is preliminarily set for 2024 or 2025.


Czech Film Center
division of the Czech Film Fund promoting Czech cinema worldwide



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