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REPORT: Works in Progress @ Czech Film Springboard 2018

by Martin Kudláč

A run-down of the films nearing completion that were presented at this year’s Works in Progress at the Czech Film Springboard, which took place recently during the Finále Plzeň festival

REPORT: Works in Progress @ Czech Film Springboard 2018

Since the Czech Film Springboard platform was set up in 2016 as a round of pitching sessions followed by round-table discussions of domestic projects in the early stages of development, foreign professionals, sales agents and festival representatives have been demanding a sidebar in which domestic projects nearing completion could be presented. The Czech Film Springboard pitching session introduces projects that aren’t due to be finished for the next two to four years. Therefore, the Czech Film Center, the organisation behind Czech Film Springboard, recently initiated the Works in Progress presentations. Curated by the organiser, the selection showcases domestic films that are ready to be picked up by festivals, sales agents and distributors.

Below is an overview of the films presented this year.

Domestique – Adam Sedlák (Czech Republic/Slovakia)
The title of the feature debut by emerging director Adam Sedlák (see the news), whose breakthrough came thanks to the critically acclaimed web series The Term, refers to “a bicycle racer paid to sacrifice his own success for his team”. Described as a chamber drama and civilisation horror about human destruction, Domestique follows a couple in which each partner has his or her own obsessions and rituals. Roman is a professional cyclist and adheres to a strict training regime, while his wife, Charlotte, wants to conceive a child and keeps meticulous records of any circumstances related to her body. Judging from the footage presented, Domestique is literally a chamber drama that takes place in the couple’s apartment, with carefully composed shots, mostly fixed but occasionally creeping around the apartment, and ranging from detail to medium shots. The filmmaker alluded to his intention to make a social horror in the guise of a sports drama. Sedlák is currently working on the post-production of the two-hour film and expects to be finished by the end of May. The producer, Jakub Jíra of Shore Points, revealed that the film is a low-budget production, costing slightly over €200,000. As a Czech-Slovak co-production, Domestique received support from the Czech Film Fund as well as the Slovak Audiovisual Fund. The Slovak co-producer is Ivan Ostrochovský, of Sentimentalfilm. Since a distributor for the Czech and Slovak territories is already on board, the film could be released by the end of 2018 or the beginning of 2019, depending on its festival run, as the producer is currently looking for festivals and a sales agent.

The Get Together – Tomáš Pavlíček (Czech Republic)
After his feature debut, Totally Talking (which premiered in Karlovy Vary’s Forum of Independents sidebar), Tomáš Pavlíček is finishing his sophomore feature, The Get Together. At the heart of the movie are a family spanning three generations and their cottage, which is soon to be sold. Pavlíček has opted to dabble in the Czech obsession with cottages, since they were the only option for holidays under the communist regime (“Since people could not travel abroad, cottages were their own personal seas,” explained the producer, Tomáš Michálek of MasterFilm). The premise of selling a property where the family spent some considerable time and to which they have a sentimental attachment enables the director to examine a relationship not only with a place, but also between family members from the perspective of three different generations. The work-in-progress footage mostly showed off the comedic side of the film plus some dramatic undertones, in rapidly edited segments shifting between various mercurial groups of family members, with the occasional bout of absurd humour. As the producer confirmed, the final cut of the dramedy is ready, although it still has to pass through the post-production process. MEDIA and the Czech Film Fund supported the project, and the Czech public broadcaster, Czech Television, is serving as a co-producer. The distribution in the Czech Republic and Slovakia has been arranged; however, the producers did not reveal a release date, since this will depend on the potential of the film’s festival life.

The Play – Alejandro Fernández Almendras (South Korea/Chile/Czech Republic/France)
Experienced Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Fernández Almendras’ fifth feature, The Play (see the news), revolves around the topic of contemporary male sentimentality. As a young director readies his latest play in a small-town theatre, a provocative adaptation of Euripides’ Phaedra, making allusions to the corruption in the 1990s that some officials take personally, he is forced to face a series of obstacles, both professional and personal. The director decided to shoot The Play in black and white, set against the backdrop of winter in a small town, while still incorporating some modern elements, such as displaying message exchanges between characters that appear during the regular action before vanishing. Almendras aims to harness the powerful possibilities of monochromatic visuals, using moody lighting, and in an occasional reminder of Béla Tarr’s style, he employs longer shots in the post-industrial urban setting. Guillaume de Seille, the producer for Arizona Productions, said the main source of financing is from South Korea, from the Jeonju Cinema Project, and that is the reason why the film will have its world premiere at the Jeonju International Film Festival in two weeks’ time. However, the international premiere is not yet fixed, as the director intends to retreat back to the editing room for a couple of weeks to tweak the final cut, which should be ready some time between July and August.

Thrash on Mars  Benjamin Tuček (Czech Republic)
Czech director Benjamin Tuček is in the middle of colour-grading his latest project, Thrash on Mars (see the news), co-written by Tereza Nvotová. The director plans to finish all of the necessary remaining work next month, and is looking for distributors, a sales agent and festivals. Shot at the Mars Desert Research Station simulator in Utah, the film revolves around a robot, Bot, who was tasked with colonising Mars; however, nobody comes to the Red Planet anymore. After a while, a group of misfit tourists appear on the scene, and the robot resolves to carry out his mission. Thrash on Mars is a sci-fi comedy, the emphasis being more on the comedy side, as a cast of quirky characters have to live inside a claustrophobic research station. The comedic elements range from situational comedy to fast one-liners (“I wanted to get married in Marseilles; he misunderstood me,” a fiancé replies when asked why he wanted to have a wedding on Mars) and some subtle slapstick. Despite this lighter side, the director ponders some of the philosophical questions about mankind (“People are afraid of emptiness and feel the need to fill it with anything. They see that big nothingness and misinterpret it as loneliness.”). The release depends largely on the film’s festival life.

The pitch for Winter Flies

Winter Flies – Olmo Omerzu (Czech Republic/Slovakia/Poland/Slovenia)
After the award-winning Family Film, Slovenian-born, Prague-based filmmaker Olmo Omerzu has been working on his third feature project, Winter Flies (formerly titled Jackdaws on the Road). Omerzu’s project was among the first alumni of the 2016 edition of Czech Film Springboard (see the report) and is now nearing the finish line. Winter Flies is a coming-of-age drama, though Omerzu stressed that he wanted to avoid the usual clichés that come with the genre as he captures the absurdity of puberty. The plot is split into two timelines: the present (the interrogation of one of the young protagonists at police stations) and the recent past (a road trip and the escapades he was embroiled in while fleeing from his home). The script was written by Petr Pýcha, a teacher who regularly works with children, and Omerzu complimented the dialogue and Pýcha’s ability to capture and reproduce the language of youth. The director cast non-professional child actors who have a similar background to the characters they are portraying. The rehearsals took 18 months, and the final film is a combination of following the script and improvising in order to preserve the essence of youth at the age of the leading characters (13 to 14 years old). The footage presented showed two young boys on the run, driving a car, giving a lift to a female hitchhiker, saving her from her violent boyfriend and expecting something in return. The director revealed that he wanted to focus on “the total freedom” of youth without paying heed to what is appropriate and what is not, although this is not purely for the sake of controversy, he added. That’s why the motifs of sexuality and latent homosexuality have also found their way into the film, albeit rearing their heads in a subtle way.