15 January 2024
Czech cinema did well in 2023. New talent emerged among directors of all film genres, which was reflected in a rich participation in international film festivals and industry events, as well as in both domestic and international film awards and nominations received by Czech films this year. Several films completed in 2023 have already been sold abroad, and many new projects and films were supported by the Czech Film Fund, as well as by Creative Europe and Eurimages.
The year 2023 brought further stability to the Czech audiovisual industry after the pandemic and post-pandemic period and the overall situation has slowly been returning to normal. Although the pandemic posed a great challenge for some industry branches, it also had some positive effects. For example, it became natural for many film festivals, distributors as well as viewers to use an online environment and they didn't abandon this habit even after the pandemic was over. VOD platforms are still celebrating a huge success, but fortunately, viewers have gradually also returned to the domestic cinemas. Czech comedies once again ranked among the best-attended films.
The crime comedy ONEMANSHOW: The Movie by Kazma Kazmitch and Andy Fehu, with the attendance of 544 479, came in second after Warner Bros.'s blockbuster Barbie, the overall box office winner of 2023. However, this result was somewhat controversial due to
a contest with a chance to win CZK 22 million, which viewers could participate in by buying a ticket. Island by Rudolf Havlík with 324 881 admissions became the second most successful Czech film, followed by Birthday Wishes by Marta Ferencová (212 089 admissions), Be the Man! (198 722 admissions) by Michal Samir, and How to Survive Your Love by Rudolf Merkner (104 148 admissions).
International film festivals, on the other hand, were selecting and presenting Czech films of more serious genres and themes. Dramas, documentaries, and animation for children and adults have attracted the most attention abroad. Several Czech films of various genres reflected the war in Ukraine or the disturbing political situation in other parts of the world.
The first major festival of the year – IFF Rotterdam – premiered the Germany-Czech Republic-Iran co-production Endless Borders by Abbas Amini, about the rise of Taliban in Afghanistan and its consequences for common people. The film won the VPRO Big Screen award, connected with a financial reward as well as guaranteed release in Dutch cinemas. In its Limelight section, the festival screened Petr Václav´s period bio-epic Il Boemo, which premiered in San Sebastian IFF 2022, and honored one of its favorite filmmakers, Jan Švankmajer, by presenting the director´s version of his so far last film Kunstkamera – a feature documentary, opening the door to the artist's private cabinet of curiosities. The IFFR's Harbour section presented Power, a Slovak-Hungarian-Czech political thriller by Mátyás Prikler.
Another winter event, the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival, screened the Czech animated short The Goose by Jan Míka in its Young Audience section.
Czech cinema has its steady place at one of the world’s most prestigious film events, the Berlin International Film Festival. The Berlinale 2023 featured Czech films in four of its sections: The touching animated short Dede Is Dead by the FAMU student Philippe Kastner, screened in the Generation Kplus section and received a special mention from the Children Jury, the Forum presented Viera Čákanyová's dystopian sci-fi essay Notes from Eremocene, the Czech minority documentary Eastern Front by Vitaly Mansky and Yevhen Titarenko, offering a unique perspective on the war through the eyes of Ukrainian paramedics, appeared in the Encounters section, and Věra Chytilová's classic Daisies was a part of Berlinale's Retrospective section.
The Cannes Film Festival 2023, on the other hand, was not lacking in young talent from the Czech Republic, as the La Cinef competition of student films premiered two Czech short films produced by FAMU: Electra, a visually stunning exploration of childhood memories by acclaimed director Daria Kashcheeva, and Petr Pylypčuk's short drama Eighth Day, in which teenager Anna longs to break free from a strict religious community. Several Czech films and film professionals participated in various events and special programs of the Marché du Film, held during the Cannes IFF (more on this below).
The prestigious French Annecy International Animation Film Festival, which took place in June, screened a total of seven Czech films in its various competition program sections: The shorts Electra, Salvation Has No Name by Joseph Wallace, The Goose, Hadis by Nazrin Aghamaliyeva, and two student films – Dede Is Dead, and Carp Xmass by Anna Heribanová. Filip Pošivač was awarded the Contrechamp Jury Prize for his successful feature debut Tony, Shelly and the Magic Light – about friendship and imagination and about what it's like to be different.
The 57th edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival presented the premieres of eight Czech films and co-productions in its three main sections. Five of the selected films were directed by first- or second-time directors. The mysterious drama We Have Never Been Modern by Matěj Chlupáček, and the allegorical coming-of-age road movie A Sensitive Person by Tomáš Klein celebrated their world premieres in the Crystal Globe Competition, while the absurdist summer adventure Brutal Heat by Albert Hospodářský appeared in the Proxima Competition. The Special Screenings section included Robert Hloz's sci-fi thriller Restore Point, David Jařab's Snake Gas, a cinematic odyssey inspired by Joseph Conrad's iconic novel Heart of Darkness, and Tomáš Pavlíček and Jan Vejnar's comedy with horror elements She Came at Night. The KVIFF selection also included two minority co-productions – Polish majority Imago by Olga Chajdas, and the Slovak majority All Men Become Brothers by Robert Kirchhoff.
For the third year in a row, a Czech short film competed in the prestigious Pardi di domani of the Locarno Film Festival, held in August 2023. This time it was the animated film by Pavla Baštanová About a Cow, a Czech Republic-Switzerland co-production.
Agnieszka Holland's latest feature, Green Border, made in co-production between Poland, the Czech Republic, France, and Belgium, received the Special Jury Prize at the 80th edition of the prestigious Venice IFF (September). Photophobia, the new hybrid feature by Ivan Ostrochovský and Pavol Pekarčík shot in war-torn Ukraine, which screened in the Giornate degli autori sidebar, was awarded the Europa Cinemas Label. The Czech Republic-Lebanon-Quatar co-production short Sea Salt by Leila Basma was also part of the official selection (Orrizonti).
Green Border continued its festival journey at the Toronto International Film Festival, where it screened in the Centerpiece section. The participation at this festival was especially important for the short Electra, which won the Short Cuts Award for Best Film, and thanks to it, the film also officially qualified for the Oscar race in the Animated Short Film category.
Two Czech films were awarded at the Warsaw Film Festival (October). Zdeněk Jiráský received the Special Jury Award for his feature film I Don't Love You Anymore, which screened in the International Competition, while the aforementioned Photophobia won the Documentary Competition. Two Czech animated films appeared at Family Cinema Weekend – the short Dede Is Dead, and feature Tony, Shelly and the Magic Light.
In October, two Czech films traveled to Asia. Pingyao Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon International Film Festival, a major player among film events in China, hosted the world premiere of Michal Hogenauer's new feature drama Calm in the Canopy, while Tony, Shelly and the Magic Light celebrated its Asian premiere at the Tokyo IFF.
The latter went on to Dutch Cinekid, which also screened two animated shorts: Dede Is Dead, and My Name Is Edgar and I Have a Cow by Filip Diviak.
A total of 22 Czech and Czech co-productions were screened at the Tallinn Black Nights Film Festival in November. Kaveh Daneshmand's Endless Summer Syndrome, and Mr. and Mrs. Stodola premiered in the First Feature Competition, while Her Body by Natálie Císařovská premiered in the Critics' Picks Competition, the Czech minority co-productions Forever Hold Your Peace and Oxygen Station landed in the Official Selection, and I Don't Love You Anymore by Zdeněk Jiráský, Tony, Shelly and the Magic Light and minority co-production Role Model by Nejc Gazvoda screened in Just Film, the children's and youth festival that is part of Black Nights. The Baltic Film Competition featured the Czech minority co-production documentaries The Ice That Still Supports Us by Arko Okk, and Eastern Front by Vitaly Mansky and Yevhen Titarenko. Twelve short films were selected for PÖFF Shorts.
CPH:DOX, which took place in Copenhagen in March, hosted the world premiere of the eagerly awaited Czech-German-Swedish documentary Blix Not Bombs, directed by Greta Stocklassa, in which she interviews the Swedish diplomat Hans Blix, former UN chief weapons inspector, and the Denmark-US-Czech Republic co-production The Killing of a Journalist by Matt Sarnecki.
Blix Not Bombs also appeared among the Special Presentations of the Hot Docs Canadian International Documentary Festival – North America's largest documentary festival taking place in April. The programme included two other feature documentaries – the Czech Republic-Norway-Slovakia The Visitors by Veronika Lišková and A Happy Man directed by the social anthropologist Soňa G. Lutherová, and also the short documentary by Marie-Magdaléna Kochová's Shells.
The domestic Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival awarded several Czech films both in its Czech Joy competition and in the international categories. The main prize for the best Czech documentary was awarded to Photophobia by Ivan Ostrochovský and Pavol Pekarčík. Kateřina Dudová received a special mention in the Czech Joy category for her debut documentary My Paradise Is Darker Than Your Hell, produced by FAMU. The Student Jury of the festival selected The World According to My Dad by Marta Kovářová as the best film. Notes from Eremocene by Viera Čákanyová was recognized for its original approach, Satan Among Us won Best Editing and Sound Design awards, while Bedwetter by Jan Hušek, with Patrik Balonek as DoP, won Best Cinematography award. The Student Jury of the main Opus Bonum competition honored La Reine, the debut feature by Nikola Klinger, while the Best Debut Award went to Štěpán Pech for You Will Never See It All.
Czech cinema had once again a prominent presence at IDFA, Europe's largest gathering of documentary filmmakers. The world premieres of two Czech minority co-productions took place here: the French-Czech-Kirgizian Atirkul in the Land of the Real Men by Janyl Jusupjan screened in the Luminous section, while a new film by Iranian female director Pegah Ahangarani My Father competed in the short documentary competition and received the Special Mention of the Jury. The acclaimed animated documentary short Love, Dad by Diana Cam Van Nguyen returned to IDFA after two years, this time it appeared in the festival´s School Program.
Several Czech films completed in 2023 have been successful in international sales.
Restore Point has been sold to the following territories: Australia/NZ, France, German-speaking Europe – Germany, Austria, Liechtenstein, Alto Adige, Luxembourg and Switzerland, Italy – Italy, Vatican City, San Marino, Switzerland, Italian-speaking Malta and Capo d’Istria, Monte Carlo and Monaco, Scandinavia – Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Finland, Denmark, Spain, UK, including English-speaking Malta, Gibraltar, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, and the Republic of Ireland, CIS and Baltics, China, Indian sub-continent, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan.
Green Border will be released in Australia and New Zealand, Austria, Baltics, Bulgaria, Balkan countries, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Indian sub-continent Israel, Italy, Japan, LATAM, MENA, Portugal, Scandinavia, Spain, Switzerland, Ukraine, UK, and Ireland, USA, and Canada.
Tony, Shelly and the Magic Light has been sold to Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Portugal, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and Taiwan.
And finally, We Have Never Been Modern was sold to Australia and Poland.
In February 2023, the animated film My Sunny Maad, directed by acclaimed auteur Michaela Pavlátová and produced by Negativ, won the prestigious French César Award in the Best Animated Film category. The film tells the story of Herra, a young Czech woman who marries an Afghan man and faces the reality of post-Taliban Afghanistan. The film had its world premiere in the Feature Film Competition of the Annecy International Animation Film Festival 2021 and received the Festival's Jury Award. My Sunny Maad was also nominated for a Golden Globe in the Best Animated Feature category.
At the most prestigious domestic awards – Czech Lions – Il Boemo by Petr Václav, a spectacular period biopic inspired by the true story of the 18th-century Czech composer Josef Mysliveček, dominated – converting six of the eleven nominations. The awards went to Jan Macola (Mimesis Film) for Best Picture, Petr Václav for Best Director, and Francesco Liotard and Daniel Němec for Best Sound. Il Boemo also won in the categories of Best Make-up and Hairstyling, Best Costume Design, and Best Set Design.
At the Czech Film Critics' Awards, Czech film journalists honored Arved, Vojtěch Mašek's debut feature drama about the real-life controversial figure Arvéd Smíchovský. Producers Kristýna Michálek Květová and Tomáš Michálek of Cinémotif Films not only won the award for Best Film, but Vojtěch Mašek and Jan Poláček also received the award for Best Screenplay and Michal Kern, who portrayed the eponymous occultist, received the award for Best Actor.
Czech Film and Television Academy (CFTA) have selected Brothers directed by Tomáš Mašín as the official submission for the 96th Academy Awards in the category of Best International Feature Film. The fast-paced drama tells the true story of two brothers, who wanted to leave communist Czechoslovakia in 1953 to join the US Army in West Berlin. What followed was one of the largest manhunts in modern history. The Slovak entry for the 2023 Oscars was the aforementioned documentary feature Photophobia by Ivan Ostrochovský and Pavol Pekarčík made in the Czech Republic-Slovakia-Ukraine co-production. Four Czech or Czech co-produced animated shorts have qualified to compete for a place on the shortlist for the 2024 Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film: Dede Is Dead, Electra, Doubt, a student film by the Slovak director Adela Križovenská, and Scale by the British director Joseph Pierce. The Student Oscars nominated the animated short Rising Above by Natálie Durchánková in the documentary category.
Agnieszka Holland's Green Border has been nominated for the European Film Awards 2023 in three categories: European Film, European Director, and European Screenwriter. The drama, co-produced by Poland, the Czech Republic, France, and Belgium, deals with the highly topical and urgent issue of immigration into the European Union through its eastern (Polish) border. Marlene Film Production and Czech Television were the co-producers on the Czech side.
A number of upcoming films and TV series were presented to international professionals at various industry meetings. Sofia Meetings, the industry program of the Sofia IFF held in March selected Animal directed by Milada Těšitelová to its section Projects in Bank. The ironic story about a woman who gives birth to a cat was also presented at last year's Berlinale Talents and in July at Frontières Market of Fantasia Festival in Montreal. The eagerly awaited Nobody Likes Me, touching on the theme of transsexuality, directed by Petr Kazda and Tomáš Weinreb appeared in Sofia in Works in Progress section and traveled on to another March industry event – Meeting Point Vilnius – where it won a prize from the Lithuanian Film Center. Vilnius work-in-progress meeting aiming to discover, develop and support European talent and upcoming debut films gave the floor to three other Czech film projects: A Sensitive Person by Tomáš Klein, Her Body by Natálie Císařovská, and the Czech minority Forever Hold Your Peace by Ivan Marinović.
Czech films and film professionals participated in various events and special programs of the Marché du Film running during the Cannes IFF. Young Czech filmmaker Robert Hloz's feature debut Restore Point, set in 2041, when science gives mankind the ability to bring victims of a violent crime back to life, was presented in the Fantastic 7 special program of the market. Two Czech projects participated at The Short Film Corner | Rendez-vous Industry, a forum dedicated to short film professionals: Hun Tun by Magdalena Hejzlarová and Gone by Polish director Piotr Jasiński from the FAMU International Department. The Czech company Artinii presented its unique technical solution at Cannes Next, and four Czech films had a market screening: Tereza Nvotová’s mystery drama Nightsiren, Princess Cursed in Time: Alchemist’s Quest by Petr Kubík, the Slovakia/Czech Republic co-production The Chambermaid directed by Mariana Čengel Solčanská, and Austria/Switzerland/Germany/Czech Republic co-production Alma and Oskar. Diana Cam Van Nguyen has been selected to participate in the prestigious 46th Résidence of the Festival de Cannes, which takes place from October 1, 2023 to February 15, 2024, among six directors who will live in Paris for four and a half months and receive personalized support in the development of their first or second feature film script. Since its creation in 2000, the Residence has hosted more than 250 filmmakers from some 60 countries. A number of these directors have achieved international success.
Several female filmmakers presented their projects at international industry events last year: At Mifa – the Annecy International Animation Film Market held in June – the Czech-Slovak short animation project about the menstrual cycle entitled Period Drama directed by Michaela Mihalyi was awarded the Open Workshop Prize and the documentary project in post-production I'm Not Everything I Want to Be directed by Klára Tasovská became the winner of the Karlovy Vary IFF's Eastern Promises. Gap-financing Market Venice presented Zuzana Kirchnerová's feature-length fiction debut project Caravan. The psychological drama about a mother and her disabled son on a transformative journey also participated at the prestigious L’Atelier de la Cinéfondation in 2021. Cartoon Forum, a pitching and co-production forum for animated TV projects that takes place in Toulouse, France, in September, has selected two Czech projects for its 2023 edition: a unique stop-motion TV special entitled 9 Million Colors directed by Bára Anna Stejskalová, and the TV series in development Happily Never After by Alžběta Göbelová Zatloukalová and Gabriela Hloz.
Young Horizons Industry – the international co-production forum held in Warsaw – awarded two Czech projects with the ORKA prize: Princess Goldenhair, a new version of the classic Czech fairy tale directed by Jan Těšitel, which received 30,000 euros for post-production services, and Barbora Chalupová's feature film debut Electric Wonder, which received 15,000 euros to support the search for co-production partners in Poland. Junior Co-production Market, which is a part of Cinekid festival in Amsterdam, presented the animation project in development ORF directed by Jan Cechl, and the Czech minority Block 5 directed by Klemen Dvornik.
Agora Crossroads Co-production Market, a part of the Thessaloniki IFF, focusing on films in development and held annually in November, selected one of the Midpoint Institute's projects, God Break Down the Door directed by Vojtěch Novotný, the story of 18-year-old Bob who is sent against his will to a religious medical resort for the physically disabled to fight his obesity. The last industry event of the year to showcase Czech projects was Les Arcs Industry Village dedicated to the independent European film industry: Veronika Lišková's fiction feature debut Year of the Widow in the Works in Progress section and Cowgirl by Michal Blaško in the Co-production Village section. The Talent Village invited Anna Wowra, the director of the short film Stuck Together.
Several Czech Documentary projects were presented at international industry meetings.
If Pigeons Turned Gold by Pepa Lubojacki won the Ji.hlava New Visions Award 2023 for the most promising European project, while the Current Time TV Award went to You Never Just Walk Away by Rozálie Kohoutová.
IDFA FORUM hosted a pitch for a Slovakia-Czech Republic documentary Velvet Generation, by Ivana Hucíková, and VR film Fresh Memories: The Look, created by Ondřej Moravec and Volodymyr Kolbasa, was a part of the IDFA DOC LAB Spotlight. The film was also selected for SXSW in Austin, Texas where the tech and innovation, gaming, music, and screen industries converge with culture for unexpected discoveries.
The Czech Film Center is a member of the international organization European Film Promotion (EFP), which brings together 38 professional organizations and institutions dedicated to the promotion and marketing of their national cinema. Thanks to this membership, the Czech Film Center can participate in transnational projects and provide a useful platform for Czech films and talents. One of them, The Changing Face of Europe, held in cooperation with Hot Docs, presented, among 10 films exploring themes of identity, Veronika Lišková's documentary The Visitors about a young anthropologist, who moves with her family to Svalbard, Norway, to study how life is changing in polar regions. Another key initiative of EFP is Producer on the Move, taking place during the Cannes IFF, where Alice Tabery of Cinepoint was selected as the Czech representative for 2023. In the Spotlight on European Animation, which is a part of Annecy International Animation Film Festival – the Czech Republic was represented by the producer Radim Procházka of Kuli Film, and finally at Future Frames at the Karlovy Vary IFF – where ten European film students and graduates present their films – the young director Anna Wowra presented her aforementioned Stuck Together.
In 2023, nine upcoming feature films received support from the Eurimages fund, which is crucial for the successful financing of the production of film projects. Five of them are Czech majority and four Czech minority productions. The former include: It Would Be My Dream by Ondřej Provazník, produced by Jiří Konečný of endorfilm, tracing the roots of the Czech #MeToo movement through the story of a young, aspiring singer, and a cunning choir director, two feature debuts – Little Thief by Ondřej Hudeček, produced by nutprodukce, about an ex-convict from a small town who, during the pandemic crisis, embarks on a series of staged thefts to help local businesses stave off bankruptcy, and Veronika Lišková's Year of the Widow produced by Cinémotif Films, exploring the mournful and tough journey of a young widow, and finally Filip Remunda's documentary produced by Hypermarket film Love Exposed, observing the complicated relationship between a photographer of provocative erotic images and his daughter.
The Czech minority co-productions supported by Eurimages in 2023 include Green Border by Agnieszka Holland, the North Macedonia-Czech Republic-Serbia co-production DJ Ahmet directed by Georgi Unkowski about a boy from a small Turkish village in North Macedonia, whose father expects him to devote his time to herding sheep and taking care of his little brother instead of attending school. Hunger Strike Breakfast directed by Karolis Kaupinis a Lithuania-Czech Republic-Latvia co-production about a hunger strike of Lithuanian Television employees in protest against the Soviet takeover in 1991. The documentary Wishing on a Star directed by Peter Kerekes, made in an Italy-Slovakia-Brazil-Czech Republic co-production follows a famous Italian fortune-teller, and finally, The Moon is a Father of Mine directed by George Ovashvili, a co-production between Georgia, Germany, Luxembourg, Bulgaria, and Czech Republic.
There are numerous eagerly expected films of various genres to be released in domestic cinemas or at festivals in 2024: Fiction features Caravan by Zuzana Kirchnerová, Year of the Widow by Veronika Lišková, American Chick by Viktor Tauš, the film version of his eponymous theater play, It Would Be My Dream by Ondřej Provazník, Pig Slaughter by Adam Martinec, Waves by Jiří Mádl, the new drama by Beata Parkanová Tiny Lights, two family animation features – Big Man by Radek Beran, the sequel to The Little Man (2015), and Living Large by Kristina Dufková, and feature documentaries I'm Not Everything I Want to Be by Klára Tasovská, Limits of Europe by Apolena Rychlíková, The World Between Us by Marie Dvořáková, and The Other One by Marie-Magdalena Kochová.