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REPORT: Czech Film Springboard 2018

by Martin Kudláč

An overview of the various works in development presented at this year’s Czech Film Springboard, which took place recently during the Finále Plzeň festival

REPORT: Czech Film Springboard 2018
(All images © Finále Plzeň)

The third edition of Czech Film Springboard, an initiative organised by the Czech Film Center, took place during the Finále Plzeň festival. The platform is tailored to domestic projects at the early stages of development, “to give these projects a chance to test their viability”, as Markéta Šantrochová, head of the Czech Film Center, explains. “The producer-director teams have a chance to discuss all of the different aspects of the films with the experts, and as the projects are in the early stages, ideally they will consider them for further development.” The producer-director teams met experienced film professionals – mostly festival programmers, funding-body representatives and sales agents – at round-table consultations to discuss their projects and visions.

Andrei Tanasescu, a representative of the Toronto International Film Festival, sums up his opinion of Czech Film Springboard: “I think it speaks volumes about Markéta’s knowledge of the industry, her connections and, primarily, her ability to match the right people with the projects presented, so that each party gets important feedback and information to help them further. By this I mean that not only do the projects get extremely valuable, sincere and constructive feedback at the round-table discussions, but the guests are also offered a qualitative overview of important upcoming projects and can get a true sense of their future development.” 

This year’s edition was no different, and introduced projects at the early development stage, which should be finished within the 2020-2021 time frame, offering a glimpse of what can be expected when that season eventually comes around. The carefully curated selection placed experienced filmmakers alongside emerging talents.

Below we present an overview of the projects.

The pitch for Bloody Easter

Bloody Easter – Jan Bušta
A prolific director of audiovisual campaigns and experimental documentary operettas such as Televise bude!Jan Bušta is now readying a film, Bloody Easter, which is based on true events that unfolded in post-war Sudetenland. “For the successful filming of Bloody Easter, it is essential to strike a balance between several genres,” says the director, who plans to weave organic threads of genre conventions, such as the western, thriller, coming-of-age story and psychological thriller, into a drama, using both a subjective and objective filming approach. As producers Michal Kráčmer and Veronika Kuhrová from Anavision revealed, Bloody Easter, a historical coming-of-age drama with a 13-year-old protagonist who experiences his first love and his first murder, will bring to mind a western style, creating an atmosphere of a character being hunted down and slaughtered. The topic of German-Czech relations from that period is still considered taboo in the Czech Republic, so the producers are expecting the film to raise a certain amount of controversy, although one of their ambitions is indeed to open up a discussion. The director has a personal interest in exploring violence in society, and Bloody Easter bears that motif as well. The script has already won two prizes: the MIDPOINT Feature Launch and Czech Film Foundation Awards. The producers received funding for development from the Czech Film Fund and are seeking to close the financing by the end of 2018. Slovak co-producer Wanda Adamik Hrycová of Wandal Production, which was behind Peter Bebjak’s The Line, has already boarded the project, and given the topic of Czech-German relations, the producers are looking for another co-producing partner from Germany. Principal photography is expected to start in autumn 2020, while the post-production should wrap in spring 2021, with a tentative release set for the beginning of 2022. Kráčmer and Kuhrová plan to premiere the project at a film market and are currently seeking sales agents and festivals. 

The pitch for Wirbel

Wirbel – Tomáš Hubáček
Wirbel, the feature debut by director-composer Tomáš Hubáček, also revolves around the topic of Czechs and Germans in the border region. The director’s interest in landscapes, environmental philosophy and pilgrimages is plain to see in his film, which he intends to use as an homage to the countryside – and especially the former Sudetenland, “its genius locations, the people who once shaped it, and the people who want to live there today”, reveals the director. His musical tastes are also expected to have an influence on the film’s form, as he is planning “an atmospheric audiovisual composition”, according to Hubáček. Moreover, the director will shoot Wirbel as a mystery film, a fairly underrepresented genre in Czech cinema, and he will seek to create a specific Czech form of the genre by merging the two phenomena of “searching for a secret” and “wandering through the country”. The director aims to explore the topic of roots, or the lack thereof, and the search for one’s home, enveloping it all in a strong atmospheric mood, so he will compose the music for the film himself. He also revealed that the story is to be set in a volcanic area, with stones that emit sounds, so he plans to adapt them for use in the score. Producer Jan Macola of Mimesis Film confirmed that the project is in the development phase, and location scouting is currently being carried out. Macola plans to close the financing by spring 2019, eyeing autumn 2020 for principal photography and spring 2020 for the completion of the film. He is looking for co-producers – most likely from Slovakia and Poland – project markets and sales agents. The domestic distributor is already on board.

The Last Race – Tomáš Hodan
In the feature-length debut sports drama The Last RaceTomáš Hodan will venture further back into history, even before World War II, to examine Czech-German relations in the region through a combination of historical and sports drama. Hodan aims to bring to the big screen the true story of two pioneers of Czech skiing, Bohumil Hanč and Václav Vrbata, who died in the mountains during one fateful race in 1913. The director is convinced that previous accounts of the story are biased, told “to suit political and social situations”, hence he has resolved to “clean it of all historical dirt” and narrate it exactly “as it happened”, since a third person, a German skier who attempted to save one of the Czech fellow competitors, interfered in the events. The project has already been presented at the Berlinale Co-Production Market, and the shooting period is slated for February-May 2019; a release in 2020 has been mooted. In addition to his ambition to rectify the story, Hodan says that The Last Race will demonstrate that friendship, courage and bravery “take precedence over the themes of homeland and nation”. The producer, Ondřej Beránek of Punk Film, confirmed that they plan to offer some roles to an international cast and to shoot the film at the exact location where the tragedy took place. The estimated budget is €1.5 million, and the crew is preparing to shoot next winter, expecting to have the final cut ready by spring 2020. Beránek is currently looking for distributors and sales agents, as well as potential partners for the project.

The Pack – Tomáš Polenský
Sports and the coming-of-age process come together in the feature debut by Tomáš PolenskýThe Pack, which addresses the issue of bullying. The director has set the story in the world of youth sports, which he knows personally. It tells the story of 16-year-old David, who attempts to succeed in becoming a goalie in a hockey team, where he is on the receiving end of bullying. The story will not only seek to discourage bullying, but will also serve as a reflection of, in the director’s words, “contemporary, aggressive society, which lacks empathy for its weaker fellows, such as refugees or minority groups”. Polenský, who has considerable documentary experience under his belt, is striving to tell the story in a raw style, placing the emphasis on authentic cinematography. Also, since one of the film’s target audiences is younger viewers, he will be opting for a dynamic edit. “Despite the considerable popularity of ice hockey in the Czech Republic, the last film about the sport was made in 1986,” said the director, hinting at another reason for going ahead with the project. The budget is over €1 million, and producer Julietta Sichel of 8Heads Productions acknowledged that this is slightly more than usual for a feature debut; however, she explained that this is because there will be a lot of action scenes to be shot on the ice. The director also wants the audience to be part of the action. The Pack already has a Latvian co-producer on board, Ego Mania, and Sichel confirmed that they are in discussions with a third partner to round off the envisioned three-country co-production on the project. The development was supported by the Czech Film Fund, and the producer expects to close the financing by the end of 2018 so that the shoot can begin in early 2019. If they do not make it in time, the shoot will be postponed until 2020. Once the film has been completed, this will be followed by exposure on the festival circuit – mostly at festivals with sections for either youth films or emerging filmmakers. A London-based sales agent is already interested in the project, and The Pack already has a distributor for the Czech and Slovak territories. 

Money from Hitler – Tomáš Mašín
The director of the big-budget crime-comedy Wilson City (2015), Tomáš Mašín, is joining the younger generation in using German-Czech historical ties. He is making a contemporary drama about the past and about guilt, based on a book by Radka DenemarkováMoney from Hitler, which was translated into several languages. The story revolves around post-war trauma in the former Czechoslovakia. Denis, a respected surgeon, returns to his home village to protect a property from the claims being made by Gita, the daughter of the original German owners. Denis sees Gita as a Nazi collaborator, while she regards him and the rest of the villagers as the offspring of those who attempted to murder her upon her return from a concentration camp. The director revealed that he aims to make a non-judgemental film, leaving viewers to form their own opinions. “We aim to tackle a very difficult and complex topic in the most audience-orientated manner,” says the producer, Silvie Michajlova, adding that they are not afraid to describe their approach as mainstream. Michajlova noted that she was happy to have Lenka Wimmerová on board as the scriptwriter in order to tackle the “female soul” and see inside it. The producer revealed that the creative team has been assembled, and Oleg Mutu is attached as the DoP. The film’s development was supported by the Czech Film Fund and should be finished some time in 2019 so that principal photography can take place in summer 2020. The release is planned for the following year. Slovak outfit PubRes is the co-producer, and another co-producing partner is based in Austria. 

Mistakes – Jan Prušinovský
After the success of The Snake Brothers in 2015 and “a family television series not for the entire family”, The Gnome (see the news) in 2017, Jan Prušinovský is developing his next feature film, Mistakes, written by Roman Vojkůvka. In this movie, Prušinovský will venture into different territory, making a romantic film that depicts the story of Ema, a young girl who, in her younger years, shot a few porn videos. The story is centred on the backlash against her youthful impetuosity and liberal upbringing, which Prušinovský considers a national attribute, and how it affects her relationship with her “true love”. The director notes that he has never had an actual female protagonist in his stories, so he sees “a huge challenge in that, and almost a necessity to make this project happen”. He is careful to point out that pornography won’t be front and centre in the story, although he will not shy away from it, either. The project, described by Prušinovský as “a boy meets a girl, and the girl was in a porn film”, is at an advanced stage of development, with members of the creative team already on board. The producer, Ondřej Zima of Offside Men, confirmed that they have already selected the locations, and casting should start soon. The development phase should be completed by the end of 2018, while the shoot is expected to wrap in spring or summer 2019. Slovak production outfit PubRes is co-producing, while Falcon will be distributing the film in the Czech Republic. The producer is looking for the remainder of the financing, sales agents and film festivals.

Sunburn – Slobodanka Radun 
Serbian-born, Prague-based director Slobodanka Radun and Bionaut producers Danny Holman and Vratislav Šlajer are readying Sunburn, an ambitious project with an international scope, as part of their Bionaut Dark label, aimed at Central European genre films. This project tells the story of how a family bumps into a young couple living in a villa in Croatia during a heat wave. As the story unfolds, lies and secrets emerge, ultimately leading to tragedy. One of the producers, Danny Holman, revealed that the project has “a tightly written script” and will have a distinct resemblance to European psychosexual thrillers, such as Jacques Deray’s La PiscineRoman Polanski’s Knife in the WaterFrançois Ozon’s Swimming Pool and Luca Guadagnino’s A Bigger Splash, all of which cram a small cast into an isolated location. Sunburn is being set up as a Czech-UK-Serbian-Slovakian co-production and will be mainly in the English language. Holman noted that it is Bionaut’s most ambitious project to date, “as the geographical scope and size of the project is larger than most traditional Czech films”. The cast will be international, as will the creative team, and Radun said she would prefer to put together “different actors from different acting schools”. Holman added that the film would be of interest not only to a domestic audience, but also to an international one. Director Radun stated that the story would also revolve around the “meeting of the so-called West with the so-called East”. The Czech Film Fund supported the development, and Croatia’s Kinorama will serve as the line producer, while co-producers from Serbia and Slovakia are already lined up. Holman reiterated that they intend to shoot a strong European genre film. Principal photography is scheduled for September 2019, with the final cut expected to be ready by spring or summer 2020.