This autumn two major Hollywood productions, Omen 666 and Young Hannibal: Behind the Mask, will shoot in the Czech Republic,providing a welcome injection of cash after a slow summer and a dip in foreignorders in 2004.

Insiders dismiss rumours that Warner Bros. is eyeing theCzech Republic for Harry Potter and theOrder of the Phoenix, but continue to hold their breath for a decision fromdirector Martin Campbell on a location for the latest Bond instalment Casino Royale.

The film would raise Prague's profile from that of a CentralEuropean hub to an A-list film capital. The last James Bond thriller, 2002's Die Another Day, had an estimated budgetof $142 million, and even considering the significant savings Eon Productionswould realise by shooting in the Czech Republic, Casino Royale wouldbring an unprecedented pile of money to the local industry. In 1996, Mission: Impossible shot in the Czechcapital with a budget of $75 million. In 2002, Blade 2 came with a budget of $55 million.

Even with the jury still out on Casino Royale, some are breathing easier with the imminent arrivalof Hannibal and Omen. Local film service production company Etic Films has landedco-production billing for the former and a production services contract for thelatter. Neither film has released budget details.

Meanwhile the local industry continues to churn out filmafter film for local audiences, increasingly with an eye on the localbox-office. Whether any of these Czech films will achieve successfulinternational distribution remains to be seen.

The Czech production most likely to have legs is I Served the King of England, directedby Jiri Menzel and based on Bohumil Hrabal's celebrated novel of the same name.Menzel, a veteran of the Czech New Wave, is arguably the only director capableof bring the book to the screen, but even he faces significant challenges. Theproject has been in pre-production for several years, owing to disputes overrights to the story. Hrabal's book spans a period of 40 years, so the filmwould need at least two actors to play the main character; casting has thus farproven difficult. The script, which Menzel himself is writing, is said to beunfinished. It is also unclear whether the film will be shot in Czech, Englishor both. And with an estimated budget of $1.3 million, whopping by Czechstandards, the film would have to earn a king's ransom at the Czech box office,where films seldom gross more than $1 million

Otherwise local productions continue unabated, even thoughproducers predicted doom more than a year ago when public broadcaster CzechTelevision announced it would no longer finance films.

Earlier this year, private broadcaster TV Nova, owned by CMEEnterprises, entered the production business with the local hit From the Subway With Love. Based on anovel from the popular author Michal Viewegh, the film approached thebox-office high-water mark of 500,000 admissions in just three months. TV Novahopes to duplicate that success with another Viewegh adaptation, Ucastujici zajezdu, which translatesroughly as 'Travelling Companions'. The film tells the story of a coachload ofCzech tourists on holiday to the Black Sea. Viewegh is reportedly working ontwo other screenplays.

Although Viewegh-penned films may be successful in the CzechRepublic, they lack international reach. Three of the author's books have beenadapted for the screen, but none have had international distribution. Producershave relied on long-term TV sales to make up the balance of the investment notmet at the box office.

Also likely to make a splash at the Czech box office buthardly a ripple abroad are a wave of teen sex comedies. Despite good resultsfor such imports as Germany's Girls onTop and the American Pie franchise in previous years, Czechdirectors stayed out of the randy teenager genre until last year's Snowboarders. To the remarkable surpriseof the producers, the film has seen a whopping 600,000 admissions since itspremier in November 2004.

Since Snowboarders,director Karel Janak has parted company with producer Whisconti and hasrecently wrapped a sequel, Rafters,which transports the action from the white slopes to white water. He willreturn to the director's chair for TheRo(c)k of the Pariahs next spring. Whisconti meanwhile is staying in thegame with Experts. Rafters and Experts, will be released in early spring. But despite any localsuccess at the box office, such films are likely to remain a bargepole'sdistance from international buyers.

Meanwhile, the Czech darling of the festival circuit will beLunacy, from cult director JanSvankmajer and based on stories by Edgar Allen Poe.

Although Svankmajer's previous film, 2000's Otesanek, saw only meagre success at theCzech box office, drawing only about 56,000 admissions, it did haveinternational distribution. Zeitgeist Films handled distribution in the U.S,where the film grossed a little more than $100,000.

Lunacy stands torepeat that success abroad and at home thanks to its heavyweight cast, whichincludes Jaroslav Dusek, Ana Geislerová, Pavel Liska and Jan Triska.

For Czech production listings, click here