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Sverak pilots pic

'Kolya' helmer taking on Czech aviator tale

LONDON — Czech helmer Jan Sverak is set to shoot WWII aerial drama “Dark Blue World,” his first film since “Kolya,” which won the 1996 foreign-language Oscar. Sverak was also Oscar-nominated in the same category for his first feature, 1991’s “Elementary School.”

According to his producer Eric Abraham, Sverak has “turned down endless Hollywood offers” since “Kolya.” The Czech helmer was interested in turning his hand to an English-lingo film, and was attached for a while to “Birthday Girl,” which Abraham was developing for Miramax.

But in the end, Sverak decided his own grasp of English was not yet strong enough to direct a contempo project, and turned instead to the period setting of “World,” which he has spent the past three years developing.

“World,” which starts principal photography March 27 in the Czech Republic, toplines Tara Fitzgerald (“Brassed Off”) alongside Czech star Ondrej Vetchy and newcomer Krystof Hadek. Charles Dance and Anna Massey play supporting roles.

The $6.5 million pic, scripted, like “Kolya” and “Elementary School” by the director’s father (and “Kolya” co-star) Zdenek Sverak, is the story of two Czech fighter pilots who flee to England in 1939 when the Nazis invade their country. They join the Royal Air Force, but their friendship is tested when they both fall in love with the same woman.

Mixed lingos

Dialogue is a 60-40 mix of Czech and English. The original plan was to shoot the entire film in English, but in the end, Sverak and Abraham opted for creative authenticity.

Pic’s main financier is Germany’s Helkon Media, with Helkon’s Werner Koenig taking the role of co-producer. The film will be released in Germany through Helkon’s output deal with Buena Vista Intl.

The rest of the funding comes from a variety of Czech sources, including the Czech Film Fund and Czech TV, plus a $600,000 grant from Eurimages, a Euro co-production fund. Also on board are Italian co-producer Domenico Procacci and Denmark’s Phoenix Film Investments.

TF Intl. will handle worldwide sales outside German- and English-speaking territories, although Mediaset has taken Italy. Abraham will line up the English-speaking deals.

High-flying production

He describes the project as “the most ambitious film in the history of Czech cinema.” That claim partly reflects the size of the budget, which is huge in Czech terms, but also the complexity of the production, which will include extensive aerial sequences.

Vetchy, who plays the older pilot, is a major star within the Czech Republic, with numerous awards for film and stage work to his credit. Hadek, by contrast, is fresh out of drama school.

Pic is shooting almost entirely on location in the Czech Republic, with a former Soviet air base being converted into the RAF HQ.

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