03 February 2023
At first blush, the Prague-based independent production outfit PINK may appear to be a one-stop shop. In addition to its steady fare of prime-time docutainment, the venture spices up its menu with reality shows, bold arthouse dramas and documentaries, provocative international coproductions, and site-specific educational audiovisual content. Whatever projects it undertakes, though, PINK and its three core members adhere to a clear philosophy, aspirations, and ethos.
Article by Martin Kudláč for CZECH FILM / Spring 2023
Prague-based PINK straddles the worlds of independent auteur production and commercial for-hire works. At its helm sits a close-knit group made up of cofounder Radovan Síbrt, Alžběta Karásková, and Karel Poupě. While Karásková runs the company, Poupě serves as an executive producer on projects, and Síbrt focuses on content and work outside the company.
In spite of the outfit’s relatively small size, PINK’s output is voluminous and highly diversified. A typical commercial project involves small-screen docutainment or reality shows, whereas auteur productions are designed chiefly for the big screen, while commissioned engagements include audiovisual content for museums and galleries.
TV docutainment with social value
Síbrt is open about the fact that the company makes television shows for a living. Small-screen commercial work allows them to support independent auteur filmmaking that would otherwise be impossible.
As showrunner for most of the shows produced by PINK, Síbrt has led to fruition several local versions of global franchises. This slate includes Survivor, MasterChef, Battle on the Plate, and Undercover Boss for the Czech and Slovak markets. PINK’s for-hire projects are mainly primetime entertainment for commercial television, by and large of the docutainment ilk. For example, Síbrt was hired to localize the British show One Born Every Minute.
While doing works for hire, Síbrt emphasizes that he does his best for the commissioning party in terms of form and substance, and views every job as an opportunity for incremental social change in prime-time entertainment.
In the Czech version of MasterChef, for example, they organized an on-screen wedding for a former contestant who was Roma, gay, and Slovak. In light of racist and homophobic public opinion, and right-wing political opposition in the country, the gesture was successful in highlighting inclusiveness for a national audience. Síbrt confesses he in fact enjoys the pressure of having his works seen by as wide an audience as possible, a goal usually shunned in his independent documentary projects on domestic turf.
Auteur cinema beyond documentary
PINK’s small-screen serial production all falls under the category of prime-time docutainment. Yet its auteur-driven cinematic projects defy straightforward pigeonholing. Síbrt says their selection of cinematic projects is based on the shared interests of all three key members. That and gut feeling. PINK’s central trefoil vets each project carefully, and approval to board a project has to be unanimous.
In its early days, PINK produced a feature-length television film called On Decency (2012). Directed by Síbrt, the documentary explored the thin line between tolerance of and racism against the Romani minority in the Czech Republic. The follow-up project, Enkel (2013) by Mark Ther, a drama made for galleries, revolved around a mother-daughter relationship in the late 20th century, foregrounding the themes of altruism and solidarity.
This social dimension is reflected in the outfit’s next feature-length documentary as well, Byeway (2014), a satirical look at the unfinished construction of a highway connecting Prague and Berlin, which ended up as a testament to the dysfunction of the state and its institutions.
Soon after, PINK ventured beyond domestic turf, backing the Romanian project Cinema Mon Amour (2015) as a coproducer. This documentary chronicled the quixotic struggle to save one of Romania’s last remaining cinemas. Next, the company coproduced 1968mm (2018), a documentary television series about the eventful year throughout the world and its impact on human rights.
The year 2018 marked a milestone in the company’s history as PINK premiered two films that went on to garner critical acclaim and accolades at festivals and local distributions. Both launched at the Berlin International Film Festival. The first project was the Czech-Croatian When the War Comes, by debut director Jan Gebert and coproduced by HBO Europe. Doubling as the portrait of a young leader of the paramilitary Slovak group Slovenskí branci (Slovak Defenders), the observational documentary followed the group’s efforts to recruit hundreds of Slovak teens to prepare for war. With its unearthing of nationalism and the mechanisms of power, the film reaped several international awards in the wake of its premiere at Panorama Dokumente in the 2018 Berlinale.
The other oeuvre produced by PINK in 2018, the experimental docufiction Touch Me Not by Adina Pintilie, won the main prize and netted Best First Feature award at the Berlin International Film Festival. The taboo-breaking film, a challenging and candid exploration of intimacy and the prejudices that many of us have around the subject, has been theatrically released in over 40 territories.
One of PINK’s most recent completed works is Polish-born Czech auteur Tomasz Winski’s Borders of Love. The film premiered at the 56th edition of the Karlovy Vary IFF and won the FIPRESCI Award for Best Film in the Crystal Globe Competition. Another taboo-breaking offering, this psychological drama explores the various constellations of nonmonogamous relationships and features a slew of popular Czech actors in risqué roles.
PINK eventually took a backseat on the Winski project, serving as a coproducer. Síbrt shared that their vision ultimately differed from the director’s. “We want to be part of projects’ origin and an integral part content-wise as well,” he said.
Enter the director
Although now a full-fledged producer and showrunner, representing the Czech Republic at industry events such as the Berlinale Talents, Emerging Producers in Jihlava and Berlin, and Producers on the Move at the Cannes Film Festival, Radovan Síbrt kicked off his career as a director.
Síbrt left school with several shorts already under his belt, notably The Marriage of Robert and Gábina (2005), which probed the eponymous married couple’s life and differing opinions on it as they spent their weekends with lovers. While that film received a special mention at FAMUFEST, Síbrt also took home the Best Director Award and the Cinepur Award for Domestic Violence (2008), billed as a “nondocumentary miniature about the disintegration of souls and the bondage of bodies.”
Following that, the PINK cofounder contributed several episodes to the travelogue cycle On the Road (2008–2013) for Czech Television. Next, he made the short student film Toytravel (2010), about the eyebrow-raising business of sending stuffed animals on foreign vacations, then followed that up with the feature-length audiovisual documentary essay The Prison of Art (2012), which mapped an experiment with prisoners and nonprisoners engaging over art, and also had its fair share of eyebrow-raising moments.
In 2019, Síbrt premiered Two Roads, an observational documentary about the unique Czech band The Tap Tap, who he directed two music videos for. Despite most of its members having disabilities, the band toured the world, and the film follows the members both on- and offstage. As director, Síbrt avoided the clichés and tropes of feel-good movies, refusing to flinch during the harder moments in the lives of these one-of-a-kind rock stars with a raw sense of humor.
The film had a successful festival run, despite COVID-19 curbing its domestic theatrical release. Coproduced by HBO Europe, Two Roads was also a fan favorite at the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival, netting the Audience Award, as well as the Trilobit Award for theme, screenplay, and direction. On top of that, it won the Main Prize at the Bosifest Serbia Festival, the Most Life-affirming Film Prize at the Breaking Barriers Festival in Moscow, and was nominated for a Czech Lion.
Síbrt’s filmmaking career is currently on the back burner, as he says taking care of the projects of other directors comes first.
More taboo-busting projects in the making
The pandemic halted the majority of PINK’s works in progress. But as soon as the COVID-19 measures were lifted, the projects continued. Closest to the finishing line at the moment is Greta Stocklassa’s sophomore feature film, Blix Not Bombs (2023). This documentary portrait focuses on Hans Blix, the former chief weapons inspector for the UN, now in the process of döstädning (“death cleaning”) at age 93.
Stocklassa inquires about the fateful events that led to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. And Blix answers. The director said the interview turned into “a dialogue between two generations: one leaving the world, another living with all the messed-up things the other generation left behind.” The final version should be complete by the end of 2022, and the film will be ready for premiere in early 2023, in time for the 20th anniversary of the invasion.
The documentary is coproduced by Corso Film of Germany and Sysifos Film of Sweden, along with RBB ARTE, and has been supported by Czech Film Fund, Film- und Medienstiftung NRW, the Swedish Film Institute, and Film Stockholm. Syndicado Films is handling international rights, and the producers are still looking for broadcasting partners.
Another project that will be ready for release in January 2023 is a short story from the Czech Republic’s freshest domestic talent, the Ljubljana-born FAMU directing student Luv Sevnik. His short film Playing, with its Hanekenian vibe, brought him into wider recognition, and his latest work is his graduation short, The Sea In Between, made in Slovenian-Czech-Croatian coproduction. The film centers on a teenage son who is preoccupied with his father’s loss of dignity, believing him to be too servile and submissive to the tourists he organizes fishing trips for.
PINK’s other projects are still in the development stage. With the appetite for true crime in the Czech Republic still unsatisfied, the company is now developing the miniseries The Attachment Theory, based on a domestic criminal case, in which the abuse of a 7-year-old boy by his mother snowballed into a stranger-than-fiction series of events.
The woman in question, a divorcée, was taking care of her two sons when she decided to adopt a 13-year-old autistic girl as well. After police started investigating her treatment of the boys, it came to light that the supposed 13-year-old girl was in fact a 33-year-old music composer, who has since been diagnosed with multiple personality disorder and who turned out to be the driving force behind a shockingly extensive network of manipulation and abuse.
One of the Czech Republic’s most prominent young directors, Olmo Omerzu, is attached to helm the miniseries, which presented at the Berlinale Co-Production Market in 2022. The producer noted that shooting is preliminarily planned for 2024, and they will be looking mostly to the Nordic region for potential coproducers. Negotiations with local television for a possible coproduction deal are currently ongoing.
PINK is also producing Organism, Jan Gebert’s follow-up project to his exposé When the War Comes, which will be also shot in Slovakia. The project is currently stalled in development, largely due to the pandemic, which prevented shooting in prison. The emerging director is readying a portrait of one of the convicted perpetrators, Miroslav Marček, in the highest-profile criminal case in Slovakia’s modern history: the murder of investigative journalist Ján Kuciak and his fiancée, Martina Kušnírová.
The company continues also in its breakthrough collaboration with the Romanian artist and filmmaker Adina Pintilie on her sophomore cinematic project, Death and the Maiden. Boarded by Romanian, German, and French companies, and supported by CNC of Romania, Ciclic – Aide au Codéveloppement International, and the Hamburg-based MOIN, Pintilie’s latest can be considered a spiritual sequel to her award-winning Touch Me Not.
Here the director applies a metacinematic approach similar to the one she used in her first film to a couple in crisis, Paul and Radu, as they undergo a “deconstruction of memory” while accompanied by a film crew. The process involves “intimate video diaries, exercises inspired by family constellations, and reenactments of key memories and dreams” in order to help them make sense of their explosive relationship. Development has been completed, and the project is currently in the financing phase.
Meanwhile PINK continues to augment its small-screen docutainment roster. The latest franchise that will be adapted for the local market is Channel 4’s Ramsay’s Best Restaurant. In parallel, the company remains dedicated to crafting educational site-specific content for institutions. This output involves a rich variety of short live-action and animated films, videomapping, and works of immersive spaces. Their newest commission is for the Mehrin Moravian Jewish Museum. PINK created a shared entity with the creative hub Loom on the Moon to collaborate on the project.
While the company is not actively pursuing line producing and production servicing projects, Síbrt confirms that they remain open to the opportunity, provided they would be able to offer creative input.