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REPORT: Czech Film Springboard 2017

by Martin Kudláč


(© Finále Plzeň)

After Finále Plzeň, the annual showcase of Czech cinema, underwent a make-over last year, the organisers decided to attach an industry initiative called Czech Film Springboard to the event. “Czech Film Springboard is a very important event for us, where we capitalise on our experiences, contacts and knowledge of projects,” explains Markéta Šantrochová, head of the Czech Film Center, which organises the initiative. “Bringing experienced foreign professionals to the Czech Republic, offering them interesting Czech projects and enabling domestic filmmakers to have meetings with these experts free of charge are among our recurrent activities,” she adds. The second edition of Czech Film Springboard welcomed a higher number of foreign professionals compared to last year, while also enabling one-to-one meetings with participants and facilitating encounters with projects above and beyond the official line-up. Here we examine the most interesting projects presented at the event.

Saving One Who Was DeadVáclav Kadrnka (Czech Republic)
Last year, Václav Kadrnka wrapped his sophomore feature, The Little Crusader (read the news), a “medieval road story” set in the 13th century based on an epic poem by Jaroslav Vrchlický and the myth of the “children's crusade”. He is already working on his next project, Saving One Who Was Dead, an intimate, semi-autobiographical family drama captured in linear, day-to-day episodes from the lives of a 40-year-old son and his 70-year-old mother after the father has fallen into a coma. Kadrnka took domestic audiences by surprise in 2010 with his feature-length breakthrough, the minimalistic retro film Eighty Letters, which he shot independently. Saving One Who Was Dead will round off the loose trilogy revolving around the topic of “the absence of a loved one” and will be formally tied to Eighty Letters and The Little Crusader. The writer-director-producer is in the early phase of development, currently working on the first version of the script, and is looking for co-producers (preferring a Slovakian and/or Polish co-producer), partners and sponsors, while production and post-production are expected to take place during 2018. “It is an inward interpretation of family trinitarian intimacy, examining how work progresses on ‘the dead one’,” is how the director described the film, adding, “It’s a message about a miracle which ‘it sufficed’ not to get in the way of.”

The Chosen One Tomasz Mielnik (Czech Republic)
A handful of literary adaptations are in the pipeline, as the latest batch of projects supported by the State Cinematography Fund reveals (read the news). An unlikely adaptation of a 12th-century text received backing and will be a formal follow-up to Tomasz Mielnik’s debut feature and homage to cinema, Journey to Rome. In the project, which has the working title The Chosen One, Mielnik will re-imagine the ascent of Gregorius (aka Saint Gregory the Great) to the Papal throne for a contemporary audience, weaving together a patchwork of motifs and myths, including King Oedipus, chivalric and biblical stories, and a history that led Thomas Mann to write The Holy Sinner. The director disclosed that his intention is “to make the film in a very simple, ascetic way and to link it to the poetics of medieval literature and painting through editing, dialogue and framing. The 4:3 format is the closest thing to medieval paintings. Colour 16 mm film should be the ideal vehicle for the mythical haziness and artistry I want to achieve. We are trying to recreate a sense of medieval language, with no scientific approach, but rather with humour and irony.” The development process should last until 2018, followed by the production, which is planned for 2019; the director is eyeing a world premiere in 2020. Co-producers are being encouraged to get on board the project, with preference given to Poland, France and Italy. Mielnik revealed the reason for picking the character of Gregorius: he “can be not only a guide to the medieval world, but also an inspiration for reflecting on the viewer’s role in the globalised world, where any man can affect everything without having to be a lord or the Pope”. The project does not currently have a sales agent attached to it.

Snake GasDavid Jařab (Czech Republic/Slovakia/Romania)
Experienced producer Viktor Schwarcz, of Cineart TV Prague, is behind David Jařab’s upcoming film Snake Gas. The third feature by the Czech playwright, theatre director and surrealist is a cinematic parable loosely inspired by Joseph Conrad’s revered, albeit occasionally misunderstood, novel Heart of Darkness. “The book tells the story on two planes: on one hand, a description of an adventurous journey, and on the other, it is about the perception of the real journey as an image of a voyage into one’s heart and the dark recesses of a man,” explained the producer. “Snake Gas is about a man that balances out his life, returns to places where he came from, returns to his own self from a couple of years ago and strives to understand his behaviour, to come to terms with himself, and to overcome frustrations and, above all, doubts from his innermost thoughts and impulses.” Principal photography is preliminarily set for May 2018, with a release planned in February 2019. The main part of Snake Gas will be shot in the Danube river delta in Romania, with some scenes set in a modern city. The producer is open to any co-producers willing to come on board and is also seeking a sales agent.

Night of the Whale – Kaveh Daneshmand (Czech Republic/Poland/Iran/France)
Night of the Whale is set to become the third co-production between the Czech Republic and Iran, after films directed by Majid Barzegar and Mohammad Rasoulof. The project, in the words of its writer-director, Kaveh Daneshmand, “pursues the very recent and so far fruitful trait of this interesting co-production potential between these very different film industries and cultures”. Daneshmand described the story of Night of the Whale as follows: “On a trip to Poland, an Iranian immigrant father, his Czech wife and their child each cope in their own way with the unsettling incidents that push their journey towards a grievous end. It is only when they arrive at the shores of the Baltic that the bitterness of reality is momentarily replaced with the hope for change. It is here in the hotel, by the cold seaside and a decaying villa, hidden in a forest nearby, where two encounters grant them all their wishes for change, albeit not in the way they imagined.” He elaborated, “With a segmented structure, the story unfolds from the perspective of the three main characters each looking at their surroundings and the incidents that place them in jeopardy from very personal points of view.” The project is intended as a co-production effort between the Czech Republic, Iran, Poland and France, and is currently seeking partners from Poland and France (i/o post and Media Nest are producing for the Czech Republic, with Road Films staging the film for Iran). Night of the Whale should enter production in autumn 2018 after the development process wraps at the beginning of 2018; the post-production works will be carried out throughout winter of the same year. “The story hints organically at topics such as immigration, alienation and loneliness, and the difficulty of mutual understanding regardless of one's language and roots,” concluded Daneshmand.


(© Finále Plzeň)

Restore Point Robert Hloz (Czech Republic)
Science-fiction remains an underrepresented genre in Czech cinema. Producer Jan Kallista, of Film Kolektiv, and emerging director Robert Hloz intend to challenge that status with their latest project, Restore Point. The speculative fiction project was already presented at the European Film Market in Berlin and the biggest Asian film market, HAF, where it received positive reactions. The producer attributes the interest in the project to its story, based on a plausible vision of the future shaped by events currently unfolding in Europe. Set in a not-so-distant future, after the stabilisation of the first refugee crisis, the Free European Federation has implemented a new constitutional law guaranteeing “one whole life to live” to its citizens. Technology provides the necessary services in case of unnatural death; the only thing that citizens have to do is regularly create a “restore point”, a sort of memory back-up. Kallista revealed a desire to enter into co-production with Canada owing to the genre nature of the project, not to mention the fact that Canada recently joined Eurimages. Negotiations with Slovenia, Poland and Austria are already under way. The development on Restore Point is expected to wrap by summer 2017, with pre-production starting in mid-2018 and production commencing in autumn 2018. The premiere is slated for 2019. Although Restore Point is not conceived as a transmedia project, the producer did not rule out the possibility of a television series based on the film.

Frogs With No Tongues Mira Fornay (Czech Republic/Slovakia/Croatia)
A 2013 Rotterdam winner, Slovakian filmmaker Mira Fornay has recently been busy working on her third feature, Frogs With No Tongues (aka Cook, F**k, Kill), expected to shoot in August. The project has travelled a lot: it was presented twice at the Cannes Film Market and at San Sebastián, and won the main Award for Best Project at Sofia Meetings in 2014. The Slovakian director also presented the project at CineMart in Rotterdam, the Berlinale Film Market, the Karlovy Vary Pitch Forum and on the other side of the Atlantic, at the Toronto Film Lab last year. For the title, Fornay has borrowed a quote from Federico García Lorca’s drama The House of Bernarda Alba revolving around the topic of domestic violence, since both share this main theme. Frogs With No Tongues is billed as an absurd drama likened to Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf. It tackles the motifs of intimacy, gender and family, “the most aggressive group within a society, with the exception of the army and the police”, as the director notes. To add an extra layer, Fornay revealed that the film would employ the principles of videogames, enabling the protagonist to revise certain parts of his story/life. Czech Television and Croatian outfit Kinorama Zagreb have already boarded the project, which is being produced by Viktor Schwarcz, of Cineart TV Prague, who noted that the Czech State Cinematography Fund has supported the project’s Czech majority production with the sum of €280,000.


(© Finále Plzeň)

Nobody Likes Me Petr Kazda and Tomáš Weinreb (Czech Republic/France)
The award-winning duo of writer-director-producers Petr Kazda and Tomáš Weinreb are already bracing themselves for their follow-up project to their successful first feature-length outing, I, Olga Hepnarová. The intimate portrait of an unlikely serial killer based on true events not only travelled the festival circuit, reaping countless accolades as it went, but it also got a theatrical release in 11 countries and sold licences for further distribution forms in Europe, Asia, and North and South America. In their sophomore feature, Nobody Likes Me, the directors will not be veering off into a terribly different subject. “Despite the fact that I, Olga Hepnarová was sold and awarded in many countries, it was not the easiest first film one can imagine,” said the project’s French co-producer, Guillaume De Seille, of Arizona Films. “The same team is developing the second opus: again it features a female main character but set in an urban, military environment, with a troubling romantic identity and sexual issues.” The project is currently in the middle of the development stage and was already pitched at Sofia Meetings, where it garnered attention from potential co-producers and pitching events. With a budget likely to reach €1.5 million, principal photography is preliminarily set for autumn 2018, and negotiations with Slovakia and Poland are ongoing.

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