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REPORT: Czech Film Springboard @ Finále Plzeň 2016

by Martin Kudláč

Finále Plzeň, a showcase of Czech domestic production, decided to attach a new initiative to the festival, following a revamp of its concept, the Czech Film Springboard. Round-table discussions followed the pitching session, allowing filmmakers to discuss their projects’ concepts and international potential, as well as production and exploitation strategy with industry professionals. The session also doubled as a sneak-peek into what can be expected from Czech production, as most of the presented projects were in the early stages of development. The quality of the story along with its potential, film crew, financial plan and script were looked at when selecting projects for inaugural edition of the initiative, but, most importantly, it looked for previously unexposed projects “that´s why it’s called Springboard” said Markéta Šantrochová, the head of the Czech Film Center, which was responsible for co-organising the initiative and curating its line-up.

Ondřej Hudeček's Bohemian Rhapsody (Czech Republic)
Emerging filmmaker Ondřej Hudeček travelled the festival circuit with his short film Peacock (read the news), billed as a comedy in three acts, although the director himself calls it a queer romance. The short film won a series of nominations and accolades including the Short Film Special Jury Award for Best Direction at Sundance. Peacock revolves around a romance between Czech playwright Ladislav Stroupežnický and poet Jan Aleš, xhile focusing on Stroupežnický´s early years and his fate as a romantic hero before becoming a leading name in critical realism. Hudeček’s feature debut, entitled Bohemian Rhapsody, is a follow-up to his award-winning short, however, as the director stressed, Bohemian Rhapsody will tackle a different story presenting LadislavStroupežnický in a different style and form compared to that of Peacock. The feature looks at the protagonist in the middle of his life, when the shadows of his past start haunt the present day life and his nature clashes with the nation´s medieval thinking. The scriptwriter Jan Smutný, who co-wrote the screenplay with director, added that the film would also be a variation on a Faustian theme. The story and film are supposed to unspool between the man-made walls of a model of the city of Prague – a utopian city, which led authors to describe the film as a utopian dream about dystopian society, a line fit to be the project´s logline. The film´s producer, Tomáš Hrubý of Czech outfit nutprodukce, called Bohemian Rhapsody a postmodern thriller “loosely working with historical facts and, at some points, almost comically employing hyperbole”. The sarcastic undertones of Peacock will also resonate throughout Bohemian Rhapsody, but the director added that the film will also be a story about telling stories and how they influence a certain period of life. The project is in the early stages of development and the filmmakers intend to take the script to a screenwriting lab, possibly at Sundance or Torino. Tomáš Hrubý will produce the film with Ondřej Hudeček acting as co-producer, although other partners are still a possibility, ideally from German speaking countries or Poland. The filmmakers are looking for likeminded young production companies. The project´s budget is an estimated €2M, modest enough, considering the set design is the replica of a city. With production set for 2018, the filmmakers are already looking for a sales agent. 

Tereza Nvotová's Filthy (Czech Republic)
Another feature debut from another emerging filmmaker, Slovakian Tereza Nvotová is shooting her graduate film Filthy, which tackles the sensitive issue of rape and what happens when the victim tries to repress the act and avoid the perpetrator. The film´s producer Miloš Lochman of Moloko film explained that Filthy will be an intimate psychological drama, and that rape won´t be the centrefold and was not the main reason behind the film´s inception. "It´s another obstacle in life" he adds. The poetics of the cinematography is reminiscent of social realism films with bleaker tones. Despite the seriousness of the theme, the project really spoke to me with the lightness with which the script was written and the realism of the characters' actions. The authors undertook extensive research during development, looking into psychiatric wards, and victims of sexual crimes and their families. They do not focus solely on the act of rape itself, but look at other aspects of young girls’ lives – their first love, first sexual experience, nightlife and relationship with their parents. Language also plays an important role; the way characters talk, whether we like it or not, is a true representation of how young people are communicating amongst themselves today,” Peter Badač, the film´s Slovakian co-producer, explained. 91% of the project’s modest budget (€320,000) has already been covered, but the team is still looking for additional funding, television commissions and pre-sales. The producers are currently in talks with distributors for Slovak and Czech territories. The rough cut is expected to be ready in October with the filmmakers eyeing the Berlinale for tbhe film’s world premiere. Czech outfit Moloko Film is on board as the film’s producers, with Slovakian BFILM and FAMU as co-production partners.

Olmo Omerzu's Jackdaws On the Road (Czech Republic)
Slovenian director working in the Czech Republic, Olmo Omerzu, surprised cinema-goers with his latest effort Family Film starring Karel Roden, currently making the rounds on the festival circuit, and is already attached to a new project, Jackdaws On the Road, which is currently in development. The road-movie comedy written by Petr Pýcha, revolves around two 12-year-old boys and their suddenly acquired sense of freedom on the run in a stolen car. Omerzu proved his formalistic capabilities in Family Film and, when it comes to Jackdaws On the Road, he will employ two parallel plotlines to tell the story, the "testosterone road trip" as the director called it, and the testimony at the police station, complementing each other, as the film is slated to be fluid, genre-wise, starting as a comedy before slowly transitioning into another genre. The project is in the later stages of development, having already cast for the roles of the two protagonists. The director insisted that the protagonists be from the same environment as the characters, thus allowing for authenticity, and that the film be shot on Super16. Jiří Konečný, who produced Family Film, is also producing Omerzu´s upcoming project with Slovenian Rok Biček of Cvinger film, Ivan Ostrochovský of Slovakian outfit Punkchart films and Czech Television on board for co-production. The Czech State Cinematography Fund and Slovenian Film Fund have already contributed funding. With the principal photography set for this summer, the final cut is expected to be ready in the first half of next year. While Jackdaws On the Road does not target specific audience, "it won´t be a kids film" Omerzu concluded.

Bohdan Sláma's Scars (Czech Republic)
Bohdan Sláma, the director of The Country Teacher or Four Suns, is currently shooting for Ice Mother picked up by Match Factory at the Berlinale Market and already has his next project in the pipeline. Scars, written by Evita Naušová, is a family drama following Eva as she returns home after her mother died. Following this she finds her father, suffering from untreated paranoid schizophrenia, evidence of mother´s alcoholism and her younger brother and a sister with whom she shares a complicated relationship. This uncanny family reunion pushing her buttons to the point where she vents her frustration at the funeral dinner. Scars is the adaptation of a book awarded for best unrealised script and will mark the first time that Sláma won´t be directing a script he wrote himself. The film´s producer, Viktor Tauš, called Scars a coming-of-age film. Its budget is estimated at around the €750,000 mark with the financing period starting two months after the film´s visualisation is finished. Principal photography is set for next year. Viktor Tauš along Olga Štěpánková of Fog´n´Desire Films will produce, while Slovakian outfit Sokol Kollar will be co-producing the project.

Tomáš Klein and Tomáš Merta's Where Is My Home (Czech Republic)
Tomáš Klein and Tomáš Merta represented the Czech Republic last year at Cannes´ sidebar Cinéfondation with the short film, Retriever. The creative duo is currently developing a feature together, Where Is My Home, which they wrote together along with Barbora Námerová. The drama follows a Roma boy, Zdeněk, after he is displaced from the countryside to a city, where there is little tolerance of his escapades and he gets locked up on several occasions, eventually resulting in him creating a spiritual alter ego. Where Is My Home is a loose adaption of the autobiography by the protagonist’s namesake, Zdeněk Perský, who co-director Klein called an inspirational person in spite of his criminal past as a professional deceiver. Klein called the film "a monodrama about a warrior, who uses words rather than swords" following the protagonist as he fabricates his own myth, a strategy that helps him to escape from prison. "We do not want to celebrate him as criminal but rather as a charlatan," Klein added. Despite the theme, "it will not be a depressing arthouse film," Klein pointed out. The project is currently at an early stage of development, with the script being developed and co-production forums being sounded out. The filmmakers intend to shoot in 2018, at the earliest. The real-life figure and film´s inspiration, Zděnek Pruský, is expected to play himself, and the directors plan to work with real people in authentic environments. Tomáš Michálek and Dagmar Sedláčková of MasterFilm are producing on the Czech side of things while Michael Kaboš of Slovakian outfit Media Film will co-produce.

Teodor Kuhn's By a Sharp Knife (Slovakia)
By a Sharp Knife is a project in the final stage of development currently awaiting support from Slovakian Audiovisual Fund for production. Teodor Kuhn’s feature debut, which is set to be a Slovak-Czech co-production (the film is being produced by Jakub Viktorin for nutprodukcia, the Slovak branch of Czech outfit nutprodukce), is a thriller about an impotent justice system and the corrosive power of corruption, told from the perspective of a father whose son was murdered and the culprits set free. The director, Teodor Kuhn, and the producer, Jakub Viktorin, revealed that they conducted thorough research and investigation even talking to the father of the real-life victim, claiming to know what happened in the infamous, still unresolved, criminal case from Slovakia, on which the story is based. By A Sharp Knife will be a drama with crime elements, Viktorin calling it "a film for cinemas", unspooling on two levels, a personal one about the biggest issue a parent can face, the loss of child, and social one, lawlessness and corruption in a case where the culprit is directly connected to the system. The project is currently backed at 35%. Shooting is expected to take place in autumn 2016, with the film provisionally scheduled for release in the second half of 2017.

Csaba Bollók's Maze-In-Lake (Hungary)
Czech Film Springboard also welcomed projects from outside Czech and Slovak territory such as Csaba Bollók's ecological fairy tale, Maze-in-Lake, which is currently in pre-production. Bollók´s upcoming project sounds a lot like an allegory, setting a captain, a mermaid, an actress and a misfortunate shooting star on a gondola operated by the protagonist, a prince, staunchly trying to crack the mystery of the Maze-in-Lake, a labyrinth consisting of inhabited and uninhabited islands that is actually a dystopian vision of the future. Bollók calls it "a fairy tale from the end of time". Hungarian outfit Merkelfilm produces the project, which is envisioned as a co-production between countries from the Visegrad region, possibly Hungary and the Czech Republic, with potential for Polish and even Icelandic partners, as the director intends to shoot the film´s dystopian setting on location so as to avoid the use of CGI. Despite Maze-In-Lake being a fairy tale from the end time, Bollók confessed he would aim to use a naturalistic approach to shooting the film "but it won't be a depressing story" he added. Bollók, currently working on the first draft of the script, is applying for support form the Hungarian Film Fund and based on the outcome, he could shoot as soon as next year. However, there is another element that could delay the project at stake – so crucial, in fact, that the director is willing to postpone the whole production. He found the perfect actor for the protagonist, none other than the round-faced US actor Paul Dano who also starred in the Icelandic independent film, The Good Heart, by Dágur Kári.

Matjaž Ivanišin's Wake (Slovenia)
Budding Slovenian director Matjaž Ivanišin is preparing Wake, a drama about a man contemplating his brother's death and life through a series of vivid memories. "We are trying to build a non-narrative film because this kind of reflection has no narrative," said the producer, Miha Černec, revealing film´s form and the reason why they are still polishing the latest draft of the script. Černec also said they are building the film piece by piece, intending to shoot for a couple of days in winter 2017 before wrapping around May or June 2018. Half of the budget is already secured and the film, due to its unconventional form, is primarily aimed at festival audience and arthouse cinemas. Černec is producing the project for Slovenian outfit Staragara, with Czech outfit i/o post stepping in as a co-producer, because of the films need for use of laboratories, as Wake will be shot on 16mm.

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