HBO Europe is rolling out a slate of original docus, a feature and an original Czech thriller mini-series at the Karlovy Vary fest, where it screened the first two episodes of its flagship “Wasteland” to a packed house Tuesday.
The eight-episode political intrigue, set amid the blighted coal fields along the Czech-Polish border, involves a host of top Prague talent, from directors Ivan Zacharias and Alice Nellis to a cast featuring Zuzana Stivinova, Jaroslav Dusek, Eva Holubova and Petra Spalkova.
Stivinova (“Faithless Games”) plays the deeply conflicted mayor of a town whose buildings are being razed by a powerful coal company to open up new strip mining pits. The disappearance of her daughter deepens divides among the townfolk – but there’s more to things than an effort to silence her political opposition in the nuanced script by Stepan Hulik, who penned “Burning Bush” in 2013.
That mini-series, HBO Europe’s first major original Czech outing built on local talent speaking their native tongue, focused on the aftermath of a real-life suicide protest to the Warsaw Pact invasion of Prague in 1968 and won audience and critical praise, sweeping the Czech Lions and screening at U.S. fests with rights there sold to Kino Lorber.
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The cabler is dedicated to building on the approach, having announced original content for HBO Nordic this year at the Berlinale fest, which expands the approach beyond its four Central and Eastern European territories, the Czech Republic, Poland, Romania and Hungary. Several such ventures already fill out its catalog, including the original Polish thriller “Wataha” (The Pack) and crime series “Umbre” in Romania – an adaptation of Australia’s “Small Time Gangster” – and another is planned for fall in that country, “Valea Muta” (Silent Valley).
The remaining six episodes of “Wasteland” will begin to air in October, following their premiere at the Hotel Thermal Great Hall in Karlovy Vary. The screening marked the first time the film fest, now in its 51st edition, has hosted a small-screen work in its main cinema hall.
Zacharias, until now a director of commercials for top international brands, said “Wasteland” represents a new level of creative freedom and audiences responded warmly to their first look at the grim atmosphere of the noir-ish tale. HBO Europe executive VP of original programming and production Antony Root said that’s no accident, adding that the company’s reputation for respecting filmmaker’s visions draws serious talent to their development program.
At Karlovy Vary, HBO Europe is also screening its Slovak docu “5 October,” following director Martin Kollar’s brother as he faces a life-threatening operation, Czech docu “FC Roma,” about racism in soccer; “Houston, We Have a Problem,” an ironic Slovene-Croatian-German-Czech-Qatari look at a secret Yugoslav space program; and psychological horror “Noonday Witch.”