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REPORT: Febiofest Slovakia Industry Days 2018

by Martin Kudláč

An overview of the works in progress presented at this year’s Febiofest Industry Days, which recently unspooled for the third time in Bratislava

REPORT: Febiofest Slovakia Industry Days 2018
(All pictures © IFCF Febiofest)

The ICFC Febiofest (15-21 March) in Slovakia has hosted its Industry Days (20-21 March) for the third time. Aimed at both domestic and foreign film professionals, the industry platform introduced upcoming domestic projects at the Works in Progress panel. The mixed selection comprised genre fare, documentaries, shorts and student films, besides arthouse movies by award-winning filmmakers. A particular leitmotif of extremism could be identified in a couple of the projects, indicating the areas that are currently dominating the wider social discourse and their translation into storytelling. Here we outline the most interesting projects. 

The pitch for The Report by Peter Bebjak

The Report – Peter Bebjak (Slovakia/Czech Republic/Poland/Luxembourg)
Currently working on the comedy Emil, about the eponymous middle-aged bachelor, an employee at a crematorium, television and film director Peter Bebjak is simultaneously developing the Holocaust drama The Report. The script is being written by veteran scriptwriter Jozef Paštéka, who used to write for Czechoslovak New Wave director Juraj Jakubisko. Paštéka revealed that the script was inspired directly by Alfred Wetzler’s autobiography, Escape from Hell: The True Story of the Auschwitz Protocol. The film will thus recount the story of real-life characters Alfred Wetzler and Rudolf Vrba, and their escape from the infamous extermination camp to deliver a report that eventually reached Winston Churchill and Franklin D Roosevelt, saving thousands of lives. “To forget the past means supporting extremism,” stated the scriptwriter, saying that despite the period setting, the drama will convey a message relevant to the modern day. The scriptwriter met and interviewed survivors in order to infuse the story with authenticity, and he also revealed that he used irony and absurd humour, elements that are hardly typical of Holocaust dramas. A long-time collaborator of Peter Bebjak’s, award-winning DoP Martin Žiaran, is attached to lens the film. Slovak public broadcaster Radio and Television Slovakia has boarded the project, whilst Krzysztof Zanussi’s company, Tor Film Production, has got on board as a co-producer along with Czech outfit Evolution Films and Amour Fou from Luxembourg, with Bebjak and Rastislav Šesták’s company D.N.A. producing. Principal photography should start on location between October and November 2018, while the film crew will move into studios in March or April 2019. The script is being finalised, and producers are finishing off the co-production contracts. The budget is estimated at €3,262,000, and the producers are looking for world sales agents as well as festival exposure once the film is ready in the first half of 2019.

Earthly Paradise - Jaro Vojtek (Slovakia)
Documentarian Jaro Vojtek is painting a feature-length portrait of Slovak journalist and war photographer Andrej Bán in his latest effort, Earthly Paradise. Director and cameraman Vojtek follows Bán as he revisits various locations of former conflicts. According to Vojtek, Earthly Paradise serves as a double portrait – on one hand, that of Andrej Bán, his fragile mental state, and the problems he faces in his relationships and his identity, and on the other hand, one of Europe, as the continent is reshaped and moved into a new position. The director stressed that the project is not a war documentary. It is a domestic production being staged by Zora Jaurová for MPhilms. Principal photography has already wrapped, and the raw footage is being processed in post-production, while Jaurová expects the final cut to be ready in the second half of 2018. The producer is currently looking for world sales agents and festival opportunities, as well as cinema and television sales.

The pitch for Ode to Joy by Juraj Lehotský

Ode to Joy - Juraj Lehotský (Slovakia)
Last year, award-winning director Juraj Lehotský finished his coming-of-age drama Nina, which he called a film “about children, but for parents”. He is already developing his next fiction feature, entitled Ode to Joy, with his co-writer and DoP, Timotej Križka. The story revolves around two little people coming to terms with their height and their place in the world of tall people. They make a living as street musicians playing the bass. However, one of them has ambitions to make it into a philharmonic orchestra. Lehotský reiterated that the story is not the portrait of a disabled person. With Miracle and Nina, which were preceded by the docudrama Blind Loves, Lehotský established a series of thematically linked stories about coming of age, using a unique style. At the industry presentation, he announced his intention to digress from this style and stated that Ode to Joy would be a different project compared to his previous efforts – a less gloomy venture infused with gentle humour, and a true film for audiences. The project has already been supported by the Slovak Audiovisual Fund, and the producers are looking for Austrian partners, since part of the story takes place in Vienna. Besides looking for co-producers, the film’s representatives are seeking distributors and world sales agents. The entirety of 2018 is expected to be dedicated to pre-production activities, as the script is currently being written. Lehotský will continue to cast and direct non-professional actors alongside professional ones, as he did in Miracle and Nina; however, he pointed out that the casting is so crucial that it will have an impact on the script, so he and his co-writer will be penning the script in parallel with the casting process. The release of Ode to Joy is tentatively planned for some time between 2020 and 2021. 

Kid - Gregor Valentovič (Slovakia)
The Film and Television Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava is the largest producer of short films in Slovakia and is also backing Gregor Valentovič’s short Kid. Inspired by the works of Mia Hansen-LoveNoah BaumbachGreta Gerwig and Richard Linklater, Valentovič aims to shoot an entertaining, audience-pleasing comedy-drama. Kid is described as a coming-of-age story about someone in their late twenties and their struggle to maintain friendships “as we remember them”. Valentovič plans to shoot in May and June 2018, hopefully getting the film ready for a premiere in September 2018.

Off Season - Andrea Kalinová (Slovakia)
Visual artist Andrea Kalinová is producing and directing the 35-minute documentary Off Season, which verges on activism. The subject of the doc is the Machnáč sanatorium, considered “one of the best functionalist buildings in Central Europe”. The building has been decaying owing to the lack of any efforts to preserve it, despite its cultural value and heritage; the director even hinted that its decrepit state might not be coincidental. The final cut will be ready by summer 2018, and the team’s efforts have been sped up in order to spotlight the building and its state as soon as possible.

Loli Paradicka - Richard and Vito Staviarsky (Slovakia)
Loli Paradicka is a family-orientated feature-debut project by the Staviarsky clan. The father-son team consisting of Richard and Vito Staviarsky is writing and directing, Maria, Richard’s sister, is producing, while their brother, Juraj, is in charge of the editing. They are calling the film an “Eastern love story”, as the dialogue was written in the local Eastern Slovakian dialect. A bittersweet love story blossoms between Milan, a fairground salesman who is a bachelor living with his mother, and Veronka, who stole one of his caramel cakes and offers him her services as a sales assistant as atonement. Milan is disabled and Veronka is a Gypsy, and there seem to be more obstacles in the path of their love than just Milan’s racist mother. Shooting took place from March to August 2017, and it was carried out with a small crew. The producer called the project a low-budget effort, and non-professional and professional actors rubbed shoulders on set. The movie is currently seeking co-producers for post-production, as the final version should be completed by summer 2018 and then be ready for a festival release. The filmmakers are also in pursuit of festivals, distributors and a sales agent.

The pitch for Let There Be Light by Marko Škop

Let There Be Light Marko Škop (Slovakia/Czech Republic)
Marko Škop, the Slovakian documentarian turned fiction filmmaker behind the much-lauded drama Eva Nová, has just wrapped principal photography on his latest project, Let There Be Light (read the news). Produced by Škop and Ján Meliš for Artileria (Slovakia) and co-produced by Negativ (Czech Republic), the film’s budget stands at €800,000, and Škop is expected to be working on the post-production until the end of 2018, eyeing a release in early 2019. The story follows a father (played by Milan Ondrík, who starred in Eva Nová as the protagonist’s abandoned son) who is working in Germany. During one of his stays at home, he finds out that his son is embroiled in the suicide of a local boy. The incident reveals that his son is a member of a guard, a paramilitary organisation promoting xenophobia dressed up as nationalism. Incidentally, such an organisation was recently the subject of scrutiny by Czech documentarian Jan Gebert in his Berlinale-premiered film When the War Comes

The Lines Barbora Sliepková (Slovakia)
“Barbora Sliepková is part of the new wave of emerging Slovak talents,” said producer Barbora Janiš Feglová, of Hitchhiker Cinema, as she explained why she decided to produce the feature-length documentary debut by Sliepková, who is currently studying at film school. The Lines is being co-produced by Stone Postproduction (Slovakia) and Radio and Television Slovakia, and is described as “an urban essay about the loneliness of a city dweller”, visually inspired by Slovak conceptual art and photography. The work-in-progress reel juxtaposed a series of urban images with scenes following an inhabitant of a tower block. Regarding the duality in terms of form, the director herself described the structure and approach as visual poetry (“a city symphony”) mixed with observational parts with the protagonist; there will be an emphasis on psychology in order to comprehend the feelings of loneliness and isolation, as well as the character’s relationship with the environment. The Slovak Audiovisual Fund supported the project, which is expected to be finished by June 2019 and be ready for release in autumn 2019. The Lines will have both a theatrical and a television cut. 

VILLA LUCIA - Michal Kollár (Slovakia/Czech Republic)
Slovak director Michal Kollár rode the crest of the wave of box-office-dominating domestic genre films (read the news) with his crime-thriller The Red Captain. Kollár is now readying a genre-film encore, as he is directing, writing (with co-scripter Lukáš Sigmund) and producing (through his company KFS Production) his latest project, VILLA LUCIA. The director called the film a hybrid of a generational statement and a caper comedy, bringing together a love triangle, a suicide, two corrupt policemen and a cab driver in a story about people’s nostalgic memory of first love, told from the perspective of men who are afraid of growing up. Kollár aims to strengthen the audience’s confidence in genre cinema; however, he adds that the story will also serve as “a metaphor of a corrupt system”. The project is currently in development, planning to shoot in summer 2018 and spring 2019 in order to have the final cut ready for an autumn release. Kollár likened his visual vision for the film to Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Marc Caro’s black comedy Delicatessen and the story to Ealing comedies, more precisely to The Ladykillers, while proclaiming Charles Crichton’s heist comedy A Fish Called Wanda to be the real benchmark. The film is being co-produced by Television JOJ (Slovakia), Film Park (Slovakia) and Fog‘n’Desire (Czech Republic). The Slovak Audiovisual Fund has supported the project, while Czech Television is boarding it and negotiations are ongoing with HBO with regard to a pre-purchase. 

The pitch for Never Happened by Barbora Berezňáková

Never Happened - Barbora Berezňáková (Slovakia/Czech Republic)
Never Happened is the documentary feature debut by Barbora Berezňáková, who has so far been working on television documentaries and web videos for NGOs. The documentary returns to an accident in 1996 that is considered to be the politically motivated murder of Róbert Remiáš, and which still resonates in society. In the movie, produced by LEON Productions (Slovakia) and co-produced by Frame Films (Czech Republic), Berezňáková looks at the infamous incident via Oskar F (Remiáš’ police colleague, who only survived thanks to him hiding away outside the country for over two decades) and Anna Remiášová, Róbert’s mother, who is still seeking answers about the premature death of her son. “I am not aiming to make a shocking investigative film, but rather to establish the chain of events, as well as interpreting their emotional impact upon Oskar and Anna,” said the director. Principal photography started in November 2014 and will last until August 2018, while the release is planned for March 2019.

Experiment - Jana Smokoňová (Slovakia)
Experiment is a short film based on a physical theatre piece analysing the topic of meetings with new people. Based on dreamlike interactions, the film uses movements and metaphors without language as means of expression. At the centre of Jana Smokoňová’s short film are four young individuals who grew up isolated from the outside world. “We picked a variety of meetings between two male and two female characters where all kinds of relationships can occur at any time. We were inspired by the idea that the meetings and exploring never end; with every new person it starts again,” says the director. The footage for the 28-minute film was shot in May 2017, and the release is slated for April 2018. 

The pitch for In Search of Special Women by Miro Remo

In Search of Special Women - Miro Remo (Slovakia)
Miro Remo’s documentaries have already ignited wider discussions, be it about his intimate portrait lifting the lid on the routine of a domestic pop star suffering from intensive manic-depressive psychosis, This Is Not Me, or about Coolture, which pilloried elements of contemporary culture. His next project, In Search of Special Women, is unlikely to provoke any harsher reactions, as the documentarian has decided to track the lives of the protagonists of his father’s (Miro Remo Sr) amateur short documentary which dates from 33 years ago. Produced by Jakub Viktorin of nutprodukcia on an estimated budget of €175,000, father and son reunite for the “portrayal of human life stories against the background of a 33-year time span”, marked not only by individual fates, but also the collective fate of a country that went through groundbreaking socio-political events. Principal photography is planned for 2018 and 2019, and the director hopes to finish the film in 2020. In Search of Special Women aims to present “the mindset of a society towards a specific group of women” – that is, females educated in a special vocational boarding school.