07 February 2023
Emerging domestic professionals are carving out careers for themselves in a mercurial and expanding industry landscape. The new generation is bursting with ideas, ambitions, and resourcefulness as it seamlessly straddles a wide range of genres, styles, and mediums.
Article by Martin Kudláč for CZECH FILM / Spring 2023
Tomáš Klein: Magic realist assembly
Among the emerging cineasts of the young Czech generation is Tomáš Klein, who, after several student films, attained his first international success codirecting Retriever (2014) with colleague Tomáš Merta. This short film, about a divorced man who steals his son’s dog in order to maintain the last memory of a happy family, screened in the Cannes Film Festival’s Cinéfondation section in 2015.
Klein then served as assistant director on The Wolf From Royal Vineyard Street (2016), an experimental autobio-pic by Czechoslovak New Wave filmmaker Jan Němec. Klein took over the directing reins when Němec died before shooting wrapped, and completed the project according to the pioneer’s vision. The film was awarded the Special Jury Award when it screened in the main competition at the Karlovy Vary IFF, and appeared also at the IFF Rotterdam.
Currently Klein is finishing his feature-length solo debut, A Sensitive Person, an epic coming-of-age road movie based on the award-winning novel of the same name by poet and novelist Jáchym Topol, often cited as the greatest living Czech writer. The novel, which has been translated into 13 languages with two more translations in the making, explores the themes of aging, suicide, love, and parenthood. While the director has weaved autobiographical elements into the story, A Sensitive Person deals with much of the same subject matter introduced in Retriever.
Heavily influenced by Carlos Reygadas and Apichatpong Weerasethakul, Klein’s films are infused with magic realism and genre hybridism. Despite its coming-of-age framing, A Sensitive Person morphs over the course of its 120+ minutes into a family film, thriller, and social drama with occasional fairy-tale moments. Like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Klein’s feature debut follows a father-son duo as they navigate absurd situations with bleak humor, albeit minus the postapocalyptic backdrop.
Klein plans to finish editing on his Topol adaptation by end of January 2023, with the aim of finishing postproduction and fine-tuning the final cut by spring 2023 for a premiere in the summer. There is no sales agent yet for this poetic, nonpolitical film.
Klein has shared that he prefers to work collaboratively, with codirecting and teamwork most natural to him. Among his inner circle are his wife, Soňa Jelínková, and his longtime colleague Merta. Jelínková served as an editor on Retriever and carries out the same duties on A Sensitive Person as well.
Klein, Merta, and Jelínková are all members of Guru Film, a brand for their collective artistic vision. The Guru Film group is assisted by story editor Barbora Námerová, who also works closely with director Tereza Nvotová (Filthy, Nightsiren).
A Sensitive Person is produced by Tomáš Michálek of MasterFilm, who also stood behind Jan Němec´s The Wolf From Royal Vineyard Street.
Klein has multiple projects underway concurrently with the preparation of A Sensitive Person, and will soon be joining directing forces with Merta on an intimate portrait of Merta’s father, Jan. A key Czech painter of the 1980s, Jan Merta is best known for his works of naive mysticism. This documentary project, bearing the painter’s moniker, Blue Fox, will be framed as a cinematic dialogue between father and son. The filmmakers plan to employ a time-lapse approach, building a documentary reconstruction with elements of fiction filmmaking. As a reference, Klein cites Jan P. Matuszyński’s visceral tragicomedy Last Family. The project should be completed within two years.
Yet Klein’s documentary engagement doesn’t end with Blue Fox. He has also dabbled in documentary filmmaking as a cinematographer, shooting wide vistas of Antarctica for Viera Čákanyová’s critically acclaimed and award-winning experimental documentary, FREM. The footage Klein shot was also used in Čákanyová’s follow-up, White on White.
In collaboration with A Sensitive Person’s DoP Tomáš Husár, Guru Film is also now working on a feature-length documentary about clinical experiments with psychedelics in the Czech Republic, titled Death Trial. The project will be based on time-lapse photography, with participants’ visions recreated using fiction-film techniques.
Additionally, Czech Television is hiring Klein to work on documentary projects. Aside from directing episodes in the Soul Care documentary series on mental illness, he is also working on Fifth Degree, an hour-long documentary about people living with severe disabilities.
As an independent filmmaker, Klein is currently affiliated with MasterFilm, the Prague-based outfit behind A Sensitive Person and The Wolf From Royal Vineyard Street. Yet he also has a parallel small-screen engagement, doing docutainment projects under showrunner Radovan Síbrt from PINK. The two collaborate on localised franchises of prime-time shows, including MasterChef, Survivor, One Born Every Minute, and Battle on the Plate.
Due to the high demand for true crime on the Czech market, Klein has also been commissioned to develop a true crime series for a local streamer and is currently developing a series with Barbora Námerová.
Ondřej Hudeček: Peacocking genre polymorphism
Writer-director Ondřej Hudeček, a graduate of FAMU, is another noteworthy young talent in the Czech film industry, known for his jocular claim that the most valuable education he ever had was watching reruns of South Park. After shooting several short student films, Peacock, a short based on the life of 19th-century author Ladislav Stroupežnický, was a career breakthrough for Hudeček.
Peacock has been described as a black comedy “complete with flesh, bones, and blood.” This short serves as a showcase for Hudeček’s passion for cinema and his desire to entertain without any compromise in terms of artistic vision or subject matter. The 26-minute semi-ironic and highly stylized biopic-cum-queer romance received a Special Jury Award for Best Direction at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016 and had a vigorous run on the international festival circuit.
Hudeček’s achievement opened doors in the film industry, including one on U.S. soil that led to a commission to direct an Olympic Channel project. The Nagano Tapes: Rewound, Replayed & Reviewed is a documentary retracing how the Czech Republic won the gold medal in ice hockey at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano.
The docu-pic combines never-before-seen and historical archival footage of interviews with some of the world’s best hockey players. As a U.S. documentary about Czech national pride, it resonated with critical acclaim on the director’s home turf, netting him the Czech Film Critics’ Award in the Beyond Cinema category, dedicated to bold audiovisual works.
After the enormous success of The Nagano Tapes, Hudeček found himself fending off offers for more sports documentary projects. But instead he has chosen to focus exclusively on his upcoming feature-length fiction debut, Little Thief.
This small-town heist comedy revolves around the leader of a gang of petty thieves, who gets involved in a series of staged robberies after being released from prison. As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, what is typically viewed as criminal activity transforms into an odd sort of rescue mission to save small businesses from bankruptcy.
The project is currently in the financing stage as the writer-director polishes the script. Peacock has demonstrated Hudeček’s flair for genre-bending as well as his formalistic finesse in a small space. Along with his bizarre and dark sense of humor, these are his superpowers, and in Little Thief they will be fully unleashed.
Hudeček is supported on the project by Jan Smutný, his cowriter on Peacock, and producer Tomáš Hrubý, from the progressive Czech outfit nutprodukce.
The director describes his cinematic language in Little Thief as simple, utilizing widescreen shots and dynamic scenes reminiscent of Ocean’s Eleven or Logan Lucky. He adds that the overall vibe will be an ironic version of Hollywood storytelling. Along with crime and heist genre tropes, Hudeček will employ Western stylization in a near-homage to the Coen brothers’ Fargo and Blood Simple. Overall, expect a package brimming with black humor, absurd plot twists, and oddball characters.
Principal photography should begin in September 2023, with postproduction expected take up the entire year of 2024. Hudeček’s first feature is expected to premiere at international festivals in 2025. Little Thief so far is a two-country coproduction, with nutprodukce’s Slovak sister firm, nutprodukcia. The producers are also in negotiations with Czech Television as a potential partner. Support to the project has been granted by the Czech Film Fund.
Hudeček is currently developing all of his projects under nutprodukce, and one he has germinating in the workshop at the moment is Age of Grandeur, a feature-length spin-off and sequel to Peacock. The story catches Ladislav Stroupežnický in the middle of his life, as the shadows of his past start to haunt his present-day life and the writer’s nature clashes with his nation’s medieval thinking.
An ambitious and large-scale project, cowriter Jan Smutný has described it as a variation on the Faustian theme, although Hudeček describes it as “a utopian dream about a dystopian society,” and Hrubý calls it a postmodern thriller despite its historic framing.
Further down the pipeline for Hudeček is Fork Ridge, a chamber mystery drama about guilt, punishment, and the responsibilities of parenthood. The project was delayed by the pandemic, since it is set in the Rocky Mountains, and the director is now working on a final version of the script with the project in development under the nutprodukce aegis. Producer and filmmaker are preparing to scout locations together in North America and seek coproduction partners in the U.S. or Canada.
Apart from that, Hudeček has several more scripts in the drawers. One is a pilot for a miniseries called The Invisible, based on the 1937 Jaroslav Havlíček novel of the same name. At the center of the story is a man suffering from mental illness who thinks he is invisible and forces his whole family to accept his delusion. But when a new arrival joins the family, the son-in-law Petr, he refuses to play along with the outlandish situation, disrupting the domestic tranquility of his in-laws.
According to the young director, he is open to working for hire again, as he did on The Nagano Tapes, as long as he feels attuned to the script. Aside from writing and directing, Hudeček also occasionally edits trailers and is part of the family-videogame ministudio Superdeep Borehole. They developed a game called Rats in a Cage, which satirizes corporate work, and plan to expand their output in the gaming industry.