Czech studio’s fate uncertain

Barrandov's Canadian suitors on hold

This article was corrected on August 15, 2000.

PRAGUE — As the Czech film community packs up for the annual mid-summer trek to the Karlovy Vary Film Festival beginning today, the sale of Barrandov is hanging in the air.

A deal for the film studio, one of the largest and — this summer — busiest in Europe, has been close, rumor has it, ever since current owner Moravia Steel ousted former CEO Vaclav Marhoul three years ago. The latest suitor, a group of Canadian venture capitalists said to have a background in real estate and identified only as the Kodiak Group, informed local producers last December of their purchase of Barrandov. Half a year later, deal is still stalled.

While both Barrandov and the Canadian buyers are mum on the subject, many of the principals involved are departing Prague for vacations or returning home. Among those are Phil Nerland, the Canadian lawyer leading the negotiations, and the Czech spokesman for the Kodiak Group. Nerland was voted on to the Barrandov board of directors at a June 27 general meeting.

Behind the scenes, many wonder whether the deal will go forward at all.

Insiders said that following the Kodiak signing of a letter of intent, Barrandov was to fulfill certain conditions, some of which are still outstanding. Included on the list of conditions are payment of a debt to the national property fund, payment of back taxes and reversal of some real estate leasing transactions. Barrandov has also been held as collateral for a bank mortgage, which may be further delaying the process.

What will it house?

The Canadians scored a major victory when courts struck down the state’s “golden share.” That government veto power stood in the way of a sale in the past. With its vast property holding, including a back lot that stands on a desirable piece of riverside Prague property, Barrandov is considered a potential gold mine for a housing development.

The latter has left some producers concerned over the fate of the studio under the new owners-in-waiting. The Canadians have assured local producers that Barrandov would continue to operate as a studio — and that existing facilities would be upgraded and a large soundstage constructed.

In order to accommodate the need to refurbish soundstages, management turned away Hallmark reptile epic “Dinotopia.” But with the sale now in deep freeze, and Barrandov with only pencil marks where Dinotopia was once inked in, the studio asked Hallmark to come back. Too late –production of the telepic is now under way in England.

Prague producers adapt

In the wake of the uncertainty over Barrandov, local producers are devising their own solutions to the need for more studio space in Prague following this summer’s influx of big film projects. L.A.- and Prague-based Milk & Honey is leading the race to convert existing make-do soundstages at the former Letnany airplane factory into a permanent studio space, while building from the ground up is also being discussed by at least two production companies. “The competition will be good for Barrandov,” said a spokesman for one of them.

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