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‘Citizen Havel’ rakes in Czech coin

Documentary shot over a period of 13 years

LONDON — A documentary shot over a period of 13 years that traces the fascinating life of dissident poet turned politician Vaclav Havel, the former Czech president, has become the biggest ever theatrical release for a non-fiction film in the former Warsaw Pact Central European country.

Feature length documentary “Citizen Havel” — which saw 13,000 admissions in its first weekend last month in Prague just before a Berlin Film Festival international premiere screening upped its profile further — notched up 100,000 admissions in Czech cinemas during its first six weeks on release, said co-producer Pavel Strnad.

That is far ahead of any other of the recent spate of popular documentary theatrical hits. These include French director Luc Jacquet’s 2005 “March of the Penguins,” which saw 35,000 admissions in the Czech Republic; “Czech Dream,” a spoof docu helmed by Vit Klusak and Filip Remunda, which mercilessly satirized the post-Communist consumer society and took 31,000; and two U.S. hits, Michael Moore’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” and Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me,” which both took 25,000 admissions.

“We are very excited by the success of ‘Citizen Havel’ at the cinemas,” Strnad said. “It has by far exceeded everyone’s expectations.”

Directed by Pavel Koutecky (who died in 2006) and Miroslav Janek, “Citizen Havel” was 13 years in the making, with shooting beginning in 1992.

Granted intimate access to a man who was arguably the Czech’s most popular ever leader, the documentary paints a compelling picture of a man thrust into the spotlight of international politics and celebrity, trying to maintain a balance between public and personal life, while bringing his nation out of its Communist past and into a free, democratic future.

The film is playing at 16 theaters across the Czech Republic and has festival dates confirmed for the upcoming Hot Docs festival in Toronto, Visions du Reel in Nyon and many others, Strnad told Variety.

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