With local sources of funding drying up, Czech producers are increasingly looking abroad for cash and international co-productions are becoming the new financing model.
Czech cinema has traditionally been an insular world, with local sources of funding contributing to projects with local themes, a local style and a local sense of humour. That however may be changing as the number of co-productions rise, a new generation of directors brought up after the fall of communism establishes itself, and eyes turn to international markets.
Local sources of funding are drying up, forcing producers to look abroad for cash, says Vratislav Slajer of Prague's Bionaut production house. "You can finance locally something for about $600,000- $950,000 (Euros 500,000-800,000), but if you [need] more, it's very difficult getting money locally," says Slajer, who produced the upcoming Czech-Icelandic co-production Again, directed by Borkur Gunnarsson and slated for an August release.
Meanwhile, Czech producer Ondrej Trojan has tapped Austrian funds for his upcoming romance Zelary, a "beauty and the beast" tale set for release in September, directed by Trojan himself and written by Petr Jarchovsky (Pelisky, Divided We Fall, Pupendo).
Production house Luxor plans to shoot a Czech-Slovak-Swedish co-production The Tall Man, The Wide Man And The Sharp-Eyed Man next year, while Ivan Fila's King Of Thieves, a Czech-Slovak co-production that drew funding from German film funds, is currently in post-production.
Such a large number of co-productions is unusual for the Czech Republic.
Both the Czech Republic's main sources of cinematic funding are getting squeezed, says Slajer. Czech Television, the leading financier of local cinema, finds itself beset by budget cutbacks. The government's State Fund for Assistance and Development of Czech Cinematography gets much of its cash for new productions from the sale of old Czech films - a rapidly diminishing revenue stream.
Yet producers in the Czech Republic often find themselves in a catch-22 situation, where the elements that make for local success can be an obstacle to international success - and vice versa.
Local audiences appreciate Czech themes and a particularly Czech brand of wry black humour. These are precisely the types of films that don't make for international box office success.
The inward-looking aspect of domestic cinema looks increasingly anachronistic, especially given the predilection of many major US studios to shoot in and around Prague to produce mega-budget international smashes such as Shanghai Knights and XXX.
Prague-based production services firm Stillking Films, recently announced an English-language original production Moscow Theatre, helmed by the internationally acclaimed Czech commercials director Ivan Zacharias.
Increasingly, young directors are honing their skills on commercial shoots, leading to the more flashy style seen in films like David Ondricek's 2000 hit Loners. After a three-year hiatus, Ondricek is back on the scene this year with the black comedy One Hand Can't Clap, scheduled for September release.
Slajer's Bionaut is placing bets on another young aspiring former commercials director, Martin Krejci, whose 16-minute short Frikase screened in the Directors' Fortnight section at Cannes this year.
"With this new generation of directors, the themes and thinking has changed," says Slajer. "It's not only about themes, it's also about style." He adds that the local industry has become more settled since the start of this generation shift, which has taken place largely in the last five years. "[The industry] works well now, but it's lacking money," he says.