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Following 2003's banner year for local cinema, Czech producers are looking out for another winner. But with the usual local sources of film funds drying up and with a slate of upcoming releases that includes only a few of the most famous Czech directors, the Czech Republic is unlikely to produce a local blockbuster of the order of last year's Pupendo, the runaway success that tapped the nation's past with its bittersweet depiction of the personal choices faced by families struggling under the Communist regime.
Local cinema is traditionally strong in the Czech Republic, considering the country's small population of 10 million. Last year, a solid 25% of total box office revenue came from Czech films, a bounce up from 2002's lacklustre 12.6%. But significantly, among those not currently producing a film is the country's directorial darling, Jan Sverak, director of Kolya (1996 foreign language Oscar winner) and Dark Blue World. Sverak had been gearing up for production of The Empties, a film set in largely in a hypermarket. Following a string of acclaimed historical dramas, it was posted to be Sverak's first major film dealing with contemporary issues. But in December, Sverak told Screen that after working on the script for several months, he has put The Empties to the side and is now looking for another project.
Among the stand-outs in this year's crop of new features is Up and Down, the return of director-screenwriter combo Jan Hrebejk and Petr Jarchovsky. Unlike the duo's previous efforts like Pupendo and Divided We Fall, Up and Down is a contemporary story, following three interwoven plots that come together with a newborn baby accidentally left behind by refugees. The film is lined up for a spring release.
Ivan Fila, meanwhile, comes with a Czech-German-Slovak co-production, King of Thieves, about two young Ukrainian siblings taken to Berlin and forced into a life of crime and prostitution. The film, inspired by real events, brought in funding from a variety of sources, including Charlie's - the production house of former Karlovy Vary International Film Festival general manager Rudolf Biermann - and investment fund Slavia Capital. With the usual local sources of film funds (like Czech Television) drying up, Fila's effort is a testament to the resourcefulness of Czech filmmakers.
Among the projects dropped from the slate of Czech-Slovak co-productions is the long-awaited epic Juro Janosik, a biopic about the Slovak folk hero. Production on that film, which had Polish-born director Agniezska Holland (Washington Square, Europa Europa) sharing the director's chair with daughter Kasia Adamik, was suspended last year after expected funding from a U.S. investor failed to materialise.