Almost immediately after the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, state-supported film industries across Eastern Europe atrophied or disappeared, and young filmmakers like Czech director Jan Hrebejk were left to their own funding devices.
A decade later, both production starts and attendance figures for homegrown cinema are skyrocketing, and Hrebejk, 32, is poised to usetake his domestic successes to and break through internationally.
Hrebejk is both realistic and appreciative of the opportunities afforded by the TV coin that most Eastern European filmmakers are reliant upon.
“It is true that in co-production with Czech TV we mostly make low-budget films,” says Hrebejk, “but on the other hand we enjoy a complete creative freedom in casting, choosing the crew as well as final cut.”
Historical features are popular vehicles for the TV outlets, but Hrebejk says that situation suits him and his collaborators’ interests.
“As a little boy I longed to have a time machine, which would allow me to travel in time,” recalls Hrebejk. “Shooting an historical film is always a bit like traveling in time. All three films I have directed contain biographical elements. Although we (Hrebejk and screenwriting partner Petr Jarchovsky) return to the past in our films, we always try to deal with subjects connected with the present.”
Hrebejk’s first feature, “Big Beat” (1993), focused on the effect of Western pop music on Soviet Bloc culture. His second film, “Pelisky” (“Cosy Dens”), chronicled the socio-political upheaval of Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968. It was the most successful Czech film of 1999 and played to great acclaim at fests around the world.
He’s recently wrapped his third feature, “Divided We Fall,” a daring blend of comic whimsy and heart-wrenching drama set in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.
Is he tempted to seek opportunities — and larger budgets without TV subject constraints — in the West? As an indication of how deeply artists from formerly communistic regimes systems value their hard-won freedoms, Hrebejk answers without hesitation: “Of course I would like to make larger films,” he says, “but only upon one condition: that my professional status would allow me to work with the same creative freedom.”
A possible next project for Hrebjek is a film adaptation of a book by Bohumil Hrabal, one of the most popular Czech writers whose “Closely Watched Trains,” adapted by Jiri Menzel, won a foreign language Oscar in 1968.