Bonton buffs Chinese co-prod’n deal

Project combines live action, animation

PRAGUE — Two leading film companies are joining forces on the first Czech-Chinese co-production, and one of the first Chinese co-ventures in Europe.

Mick Hawk and Zdenek Kozak, co-presidents of Czech entertainment conglomerate Bonton, signed the agreement in Beijing with Zheng Xiaolong, film helmer and director of Beijing TV Art Center, the production arm of China’s CCTV.

The combination animation and live action film is based on the bestselling book and TV series “Max and Sally” (Mach a Sebestova) and will be the first children’s animated feature shot in the Czech Republic. Published by Bonton publishing arm Albatross, the “Max and Sally” books are sold in 20 countries.

“We think the film will have an international appeal,” Hawk says. The script was rewritten over the past year to include a Chinese boy that the two leading children pick up on their trip around the world via a magic walkie-talkie.

The deal grew out of a meeting at last year’s Zlin Film Festival, one of the world’s largest for children’s pics. Zheng accompanied the Chinese competition entry at the festival, where he met with Hawk and Kozak and expressed his interest in doing a film in the Czech Republic.

This year, Li Tingzhi, minister of the Beijing Radio and Television Bureau, has confirmed he will attend the Zlin fest, which runs May 27-June 2.

In addition to an animation film studio and the children’s festival, Zlin is home to an animation school and a large library of animated films.

“It’s an exciting first step for what we hope will be a long relationship in children’s filmmaking,” Hawk says.

The film, a production of the Bonton Zlin film studio, is directed by veteran Czech fairy tale helmer Vaclav Vorlicek.

China is providing 20% of the $1 million budget, picking up the costs of the Chinese location shoot.