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REPORT: Pitch & Feedback, Karlovy Vary 2017

by Martin Kudláč

KARLOVY VARY 2017: We take a look at the new Czech and Slovakian projects in the early stages of development that were presented at Pitch & Feedback during this year's KVIFF

REPORT: Pitch & Feedback, Karlovy Vary 2017
(All photos © Karlovy Vary International Film Festival)

As is traditional, new domestic projects in the early stages of development from the Czech and Slovakian film industries were introduced during the Pitch & Feedback industry event during this year’s edition of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. “The event gave us a great insight into the upcoming Czech and Slovakian projects in development. In particular, the individual consultations prior to the pitching were a perfect chance to get to know the filmmakers, the producers and their projects. Our discussions about the scripts and packaging were intense, open-minded and fruitful, which helped the presenters – and us – to be well prepared for the public event. There were a striking number of titles that dealt with the countries’ history during the Cold War, such as Halves by Ali Mosaffa, or Jana Nemčeková’s Made in Czechoslovakia, and it was interesting to see how the young generation of filmmakers explores this ever-crucial topic. At the same time, the organisers selected a nice range of genres, ranging from political thriller through to road-movie drama,” commented Oliver Rittweger, of the Mitteldeutsche Medienförderung, who sat on the panel as a Pitch & Feedback expert.

“I have been following Pitch & Feedback since the first year, and this was the second time that I was asked to be on the panel of experts. I must say that I really enjoyed the procedure both times, and I can see that the organisers are making every effort to get the best results possible out of the event through the small changes that they have made, such as having the informal consultation one day before the formal pitching to the industry audience, which gives the presenters time to perhaps change something in their pitch or stress a particular detail that is needed,” said Angeliki Vergou of the Crossroads Co-production Forum, another expert, adding: “What I liked about the concept of Pitch & Feedback is the fact that it is just that. It does not involve awards and the added stress of competition; it is not a co-production market. It’s just a presentation of projects to a friendly industry audience, where they can get feedback for their next steps and test out their ideas.”

Here is an overview of the projects presented:

The presentation of Halves 

Halves – Ali Mosaffa (Czech Republic/Iran)
The Czech Republic is consolidating its co-production partnership with Iran with Ali Mosaffa’s project Halves. Following Kaveh Daneshmand’s latest project, Night of the Whale, currently in development, Halves is poised to become the fourth effort to spring from Czech-Iranian collaboration efforts. Mosaffa, who starred in Asghar Farhadi’s first foreign-language film, The Past, is a Karlovy Vary regular: the filmmaker was nominated for the Crystal Globe in 2005 with his feature debut, Portrait of a Lady Far Away, and returned in 2012 to unveil his sophomore feature, The Last Step, as an international premiere, netting the Crystal Globe for Best Actress and the FIPRESCI Prize for Best Film. Mosaffa is readying an attempt to explore the uncharted intersection of Iran and the former Czechoslovakia, while probing the obscure nooks and crannies of Iranian history following the 1953 military coup and its fallout. The protagonist of this mystical thriller, Rouzbeh, flees Tehran, leaving behind his troubled family life in order to write a book about his father, a communist expatriate in Czechoslovakia. An investigation into the death of a resident in his father’s old apartment disrupts his efforts. Rouzbeh finds he is closer to the victim than he had first thought, while at the same time he discovers facts about his father that are in direct contrast to the idealised vision he had of him. Besides complimenting the film’s ambition to dedicate a story to the untold history between the former Czechoslovakia and Iran, the film’s producer, Jordi Niubó, of i/o post, adds, “What excites me personally is its mysterious duality in interpreting the state of things and that it’s de facto a story about a departing soul and a vanishing past.” Principal photography is set for August 2018, eyeing an April 2019 release. The producer noted that he is seeking co-producers from France and Poland to board the project, although he remains open to any interesting propositions.

Let There Be LightMarko Škop (Slovakia/Czech Republic)
After his award-winning and internationally critically acclaimed first feature-length fiction outing, Eva Nová, the Slovakian entry for the Best Foreign-language Film Oscar in 2016, capped off by HBO Europe’s acquisition of it for release in Central and Eastern Europe after a fruitful festival run, Slovakian filmmaker Marko Škop is developing his sophomore fiction feature, poetically titled Let There Be Light. Škop’s latest project is a reaction to creeping xenophobia and right-wing extremism in Central Europe, following the protagonist, fortysomething Milan, a Slovak gastarbeiter in Germany, as he returns home after his teenage son is accused of bullying and killing a classmate. After discovering that his son is involved in nationalistic home guards, the father uncovers the truth about the situation in this society, his family and, last but not least, himself. “I am interested in the theme of an ordinary man, just one out of the millions, who is part of the mass xenophobic soul with his own tiny, ignorant contribution when he is confronted with the consequences of hatred in a harsh way through events that occur in his own family,” commented the director. “I would like to show how easily we can become enemies to our own people. I would like to try to depict evil and the mistakes that can lead to it in our unstable existence.” The title stems from the director’s visual approach and the symbolism of knowledge penetrating the darkness as light. The darkness of this small world of unclear elements sets up the scenes in “powerful contrast with pronounced light and, at the same time, with dark, even indecipherable, corners that will serve to support the essence of the story”. With an expected schedule of 35 shooting days, the production is set to kick off in January 2018 and should wrap in March, with the film ready for a release in January 2019. Slovakian production company Artileria, co-founded by the director, is producing alongside two co-producing partners, Czech company Negativ and France’s Loco Films, which handled the international sales for Eva Nová.

The presentation of Made in Czechoslovakia

Made in Czechoslovakia – Jana Nemčeková (Slovakia/Czech Republic)
Prague-based Slovakian editor Jana Nemčeková is preparing her writing-directing feature-length fiction debut, Made in Czechoslovakia, and she is not afraid that the film won’t pass the Bechdel test. Made in Czechoslovakia’s protagonist, stuntwoman Monika, gets a shot at deciphering the mystery surrounding her mother, who abandoned her as a child. Inspired by a real-life Monika, the main character’s discoveries reflect parent-child psychology and generational dissimilarities that are also fuelled by the Dissolution of Czechoslovakia after 1989 in a family drama based on an archetypal story blueprint and a universal message. The writer-director sees the protagonist as “a metaphysical symbol” and “a key to the cipher”. Referring to her project, currently in development, as a “female film”, she adds: “I am a female author and a bad feminist; that’s why I show sex from the point of view of a woman and write about it from the position of a woman.” Barbara Janišová Feglová, the producer (of Hitchhiker Cinema) behind the project, considers Nemčeková a member of the emerging generation of talented European filmmakers, and she is also convinced of the film’s international potential. The development stage is expected to last until September 2018, with pre-production taking place throughout February, March and April 2019, followed by the production wrap in August 2019. Principal photography, lasting 35 days, should be spread throughout September and October 2019. The post-production phase of the project should be finished by May 2020, and the final cut should be ready for a June 2020 release. Janišová Feglová has participated in ACE Training Days with the project, as well as in SOURCES 2.

Old-TimersMartin Dušek and Ondřej Provazník (Czech Republic)
Several Czech and Slovakian documentary-trained filmmakers have made the transition to fiction filmmaking lately, and the shift has proven successful. The same pattern is followed by the new project produced by Jiří Konečný, of independent film production company endorfilm, a prolific and experienced Czech producer who was behind recent projects such as Juraj Lehotský’s sophomore fiction feature, Nina (another director who also came from a documentary filmmaking background), Iveta Grófová’s Crystal Bear-winning film Little Harbour and the Un Certain Regard-premiered drama Out, directed by debutant Gyorgy Kristóf. Konečný is currently developing a genre film that combines action-thriller with road movie, spiced up with some absurdist poeticism, called Old-Timers. It is written and directed by a pair of documentarians, Martin Dušek and Ondřej Provazník, who have previously worked together on the award-winning documentary A Town Called Hermitage and Coal in the Soul, while Dušek helmed Into the Clouds We Gaze, a provocative portrait of the young “lost generation”. Revolving around the theme of old age and vengeance, Old-Timers is a story inspired by true events about two octogenarians, former political prisoners, taking justice into their own hands and dishing out revenge after almost 60 years. They travel through the country in a camper van in order to kill a communist prosecutor from the 1950s who was never officially punished for his crimes. Old-Timers revolves around two topics: old age on one hand, and disputing the coming to terms with the communist period on the other, with the producer explaining that he hopes the film “will help to open up the unsettling theme of resolving the communist past”, which he finds “more and more twisted, relativised and displaced”. The writer-directors add, “It’s about the contrast between what our aged characters experience as current and pressing, and the actual reality of contemporary life, which in a certain sense is indifferent and irrelevant to their efforts and the traumas they have experienced.” The producer plans to shoot in May and June 2018, in order to have the film ready for the beginning of 2019. He is intending to co-produce with Poland, Germany and Slovakia.

The presentation of Power

PowerMátyás Prikler (Slovakia/Hungary/Czech Republic)
Slovakian producer-director Mátyás Prikler debuted in 2013 with the feature-length family film Fine, Thanks. Between his jobs as a producer, he has been working on his sophomore feature, Power, again co-written with Marek Leščák, who is credited for the scripts for a raft of recent successful domestic productions, such as Little Harbour, Koza, Made in Ash and Gypsy, among others. Prikler scrutinises “a structure of power and the question of the relativity of guilt and innocence, and truth and lies” in his latest project. The director dubs the film “a political thriller with psychological insight”; it tells the story of an accidental murder perpetrated by a high-ranking politician. He intends to shoot Power in the film noir vein visually speaking, with a desaturated picture, while playing with the genre rules of the political and crime thriller. Power is being produced by Prikler’s company, Mphilms, and co-produced by Negativ on the Czech side and by Kornél Mundruczó’s company, Proton Cinema, while Mundruczó himself is poised to star in the film and A Pigeon Sat on a Branch Reflecting on Existence DoP Gergely Palos is on board to lens the movie. Principal photography is scheduled for December 2017, since the story is set in winter, and the initial release is planned sometime in 2019.

Year of the WidowVeronika Lišková (Czech Republic)
A reader of a Czech magazine, Zuzana Pokorná, recounted in confessional, diary-like article her first year after the sudden and unexpected demise of her husband. The piece interwove inward emotional furore, complete exhaustion, grief, anxiety, single parenting, financial insecurity and a Kafkaesque struggle with indifferent bureaucratic apparatus. This candid confession that so moved readers became the inspiration for Veronika Lišková’s feature-length fiction debut, Year of the Widow. Co-written by the director and Eugen Liška, the scriptwriters, inspired by Pokorná’s experience, penned a minimalistic drama based on a series of inner and outer microdramas that the lead character, Petra, must face. The director revealed the story’s wider context, addressing the still-taboo topic in contemporary society while capturing “a specific clash between a person's individual perception of a situation and the reality, which ruthlessly goes on about its business”. Lišková, the manager of Ex Oriente Film at the Institute of Documentary Film, came to further prominence on the festival circuit after making her award-winning feature documentary, Daniel’s World, a thought-provoking portrait of a young paedophile. Inspired by her previous documentary works, she will employ documentary stylisation in Year of the Widow, blending documentary and fiction filmmaking methods into a docudrama form. The scriptwriters expect to have the final script finished in December 2018, in the hope of startingthe shoot in spring or summer 2019, thus wrapping the post-production and preparing the film for release in 2020. Alice Tabery, who co-produced Marko Škop’s award-winning fiction feature debut, Eva Nová, is producing for Czech production company Cinepoint, confirming her plan to realise the project in co-production with Slovakia “as the most natural partner for Czech production”, while revealing more of her plans: “We are also looking for other minority co-producers open to collaborating on a film with a lower production budget, and capable of offering creative input into the production or post-production of the project.”

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