Since 2002, the Czech Film Center (CFC) has worked to boost the local film industry by marketing and promoting Czech cinema worldwide. The CFC is the industry’s official representative at international film festivals, markets, and co-production platforms, actively engaging in the selection process and presentation of Czech films and projects, while also working with producers on their development and release strategies. It’s a respected source of know-how about the local industry, with up-to-date information about Czech cinema, new film legislation, and funding and co-production possibilities in the country. At the 54th Karlovy Vary Film Festival this week, CFC head Marketa Santrochova – who is also president of European Film Promotion – spoke to Variety about the group’s activities to support local filmmakers.
Can you tell us about the Czech Film Center and the Czech Film Fund, and what they’re doing to support the local industry?
The CFC is a division of the Czech Film Fund, which is the main public financing institution of the Czech Republic that supports all sorts of processes in the film and audiovisual industry. There’s selective support for scriptwriting, development, production, distribution, film education, promotion, and all these kinds of things. The annual budget is around €14 million ($15.7 million). The fund also administers the production incentive, which is the 20% cash rebate, and the annual budget is €30 million ($33.7 million). It’s open to Czech productions, but also to foreign companies coming to shoot in the Czech Republic.
The recently wrapped Czech-Irish-Polish-Slovak co-production “Charlatan” (pictured), directed by Polish director Agnieszka Holland, was supported by the Czech Film Fund in both development and production stages, and will be presented at the Venice Gap-Financing Market. Is there a particular strategy to how you support and promote co-productions, and how those boost the local industry? Who are the main partners for Czech producers?
Majority Czech films have a lot of co-producing partners in general. If you take all Czech films released in the year, I would say 80% of them are co-productions — mostly majority Czech.
We have the usual countries that we work with very much — Slovakia, of course. It’s now very common with the Baltic countries. It’s also opening a bit more with the ex-Yugoslavia countries, and also with Poland. I think five, 10 years ago, we didn’t co-produce that much with Poland, which is quite bizarre in a way, because we share the same history, the same background. Also the industry might be in the same shape. Somehow, there were not so many [co-production] projects. But since the past four, five years, it’s a regular thing. And I think it’s good that it opens these doors to the Baltics, to Balkan countries. And of course, we logically work a lot with Germany, with France, some Scandinavian. There has been cooperation with Iran, which is also something that has been coming up.
A panel discussion in Karlovy Vary this week looked to address both the challenges and opportunities for Czech films in the international market. There was a sense that contemporary Czech cinema hasn’t really established itself globally — that foreign audiences don’t really know Czech cinema the way they might know, for example, the Romanian New Wave. Why do you think that’s the case?
I think it’s two things. First thing is that Czech cinema from the ‘60s was so excellent that it still remains seen as the Czech cinema. But it’s 50, 60 years ago. It’s difficult to come to that level of cinema when the expectations are so high.
Secondly, of course, as it was with Romanian cinema, you constantly [have to] deliver festival films that are in the competitions of A-class festivals. And it’s not just one per 10, 15, 20 years, but it’s a continuous thing. That’s what we still need — to have this pioneer who brings us to that level. And it would have this effect on other filmmakers, where maybe they feel more confident in the way they want to do their films. And they feel more free, because there is this wave.
How is the CFC trying to make that happen?
That’s what we do in the Czech Film Center for 17 years: to make a platform where talents and projects can have a network that connects with the world outside. Something that can grow the industry. And of course help them on the way, when they have their projects, to find partners, co-producers.
When it comes to fiction films, we have a program that’s called Czech Film Springboard, which is really for projects that are early in development. We invite international experts to the Finale Plzen Film Festival, and we select with the help of an international jury projects that are in this early development stage. Then the experts consult with the producers, scriptwriters, director teams: what are the expectations, what are the plans, what works and what doesn’t work. The experts, it’s a mixture of sales agents, distributors, producers, funders, co-production markets, festival programmers. The motivation was to make something more intimate, that you can test where you are with your expectations, with your progress. The motivation is also to show upcoming projects that will probably in 2-3 years be ready for release, but to give a little awareness about those projects to the industry.
When it comes to documentary films, we are pretty well secured in Czech Republic thanks to the Institute of Documentary Film. There’s the East Doc Platform — the market for Central and Eastern European documentaries, where there’s a presentation of upcoming documentary films. We work on it with them, but it’s mainly the institute’s work. We work also with Ji.hlava [Intl. Documentary Film Festival]. During the festival, we always do a presentation of projects that are ready to release, and don’t have a sales agent, don’t have a festival premiere yet. So they are already on the menu.
The Audiovisual Producers Assn. – the country’s leading producers group – reported this week in Karlovy Vary that total production in the Czech Republic in the past year reached $365 million. Local shoots, however, accounted for just a fifth of that. How do you see the state of Czech filmmaking in 2019?
I have a feeling it’s growing. It’s not like a rocket that goes from zero to 100 in a few seconds, but I think the feeling in the industry is pretty positive. There are a lot of interesting projects with a wider perspective — part of the shooting takes place outside [the country]. It’s more international teams. Also, it’s bigger budgets, so it’s bigger projects that eventually can lead to more co-productions. I think it’s slowly but certainly moving somewhere.