Good news for exhibs as auds return

PRAGUE — It may yet prove a blip, but Czech exhibs, like those in France, are cautiously celebrating the return of auds following a report of the best B.O. numbers since 2004, when ticket prices were nearly 10% less.

Ales Danielis of Bontonfim thinks the uptick, which saw 11.6 million moviegoers in 2006 over last year’s 9.4 million, is not due to chance.

“I believe in market stabilization,” he says, adding that the Czech distrib has high hopes in 2007 for “Shrek 3,” “Mr. Bean’s Holiday” and the new Harry Potter and Spider-Man installments, all genres with a track record of success.

Jan Bradac, director of distrib Falcon, which does well with Western arthouse films along with a slate of respected Czech filmmakers, is just as bullish.

Local industryites say they hope to maintain the numbers with strong upcoming local pics like Jiri Menzel’s return after a decade with “I Served the King of England” and Jan Sverak’s “Bottles Return,” which opens in March. Critics have not been kind to Menzel’s long-awaited work but Czech auds nonetheless are expected to turn out for the adaptation of a book by their beloved late literary scion Bohumil Hrabal.

Another closely watched pic is Juraj Jakubisko’s “Bathory,” a medieval horror epic with a record budget of nearly $14 million.

Some observers say the uptick is due specifically to U.S. blockbusters like “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest” and “Da Vinci Code,” but that pics by locals might not continue to attract auds in the coming year.

Meanwhile, the caretaker Czech government, in place since June’s no-win general election, has appointed a popular new culture minister, docu maker Helena Trestikova, who bizzers hope will refocus attention on local film funding. Trestikova was formerly head of the newly created film council, and replaced Vitezslav Jandak, who fumbled a proposed tax to fund local production last year.

Follow @Variety on Twitter for breaking news, reviews and more