3. April 2006

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After a busy second half of 2005, Prague studios are experiencing a slow period. No major international productions have yet been announced to shoot in the Czech territory, which is not unusual. A similar production gap opened in mid-2005 before Young Hannibal: Behind the Mask, Omen 666 and Casino Royale filled local stages. Rumours that Part 2 of The Chronicles of Narnia would shoot in the Czech Republic could not be confirmed. Rather 2006 is shaping up to be a comeback year for local auteurs. As previously reported in Screen International and Screendaily.com, Oscar winners Jan Sverak and Jiri Menzel have both returned to the director's chair. Menzel is in the midst of shooting his long-awaited opus, I Served The King Of England, which will see limited domestic release in December 2006. The film is based on the Czech novel of the same name by Bohumil Hrabal, who also wrote the book which Menzel adapted for his 1968 Oscar winner, Closely Watched Trains. Given that Hrabal and Menzel both approach the status of national treasures in the Czech Republic, and the cachet of an international star in Julia Jentsch (Sophie Scholl), the film is a sure Czech entry for the 2007 Oscar nominations. In 2008, that honour will likely go to Sverak's Empties, which will be released in March 2007. Sverak, who won Best Foreign Language Film in 1997 with Kolya, has re-teamed with actor-screenwriter father Zdenek and British co-producer Eric Abraham for Empties. The film, about a reluctantly retired teacher, is a modest outing for the Sveraks after their big-scale WWII aerial drama Dark Blue World but should better showcase their talents. Surrealist filmmaker Jan Svankmajer, whose latest film, Lunacy, is included in this year's Tribeca Spotlight section, has announced his next project: Surviving Life (Theory and Practice) will be Svankmajer's first since the death of his wife and long-time collaborator, Eva Svankmajerova. King Of England will be a hit at the Czech box office due in no small part to the popularity of Hrabal's book. Local filmmakers have cottoned on to the magic of literary adaptations following the success From The Subway With Love, the top box-office earner in the Czech Republic in 2005, based on a novel by bestselling author Michael Viewegh. It's Gonna Get Worse is likewise based on a popular work. Dealing with communist Czechoslovakia in the 1980s and filled with retro music, the film will draw some comparisons to Wolfgang Becker's Good Bye, Lenin. Keeping with the counter-culture spirit of the book, the Czech filmmakers are skipping traditional distribution channels and plan to screen the 16mm black-and-white film at clubs, pubs and music festivals. Lit adaptation Gympl also looks at the underground in the form of present-day graffiti artists, giving the film a ready-made audience, primarily teenage boys. The same demographic is being courted by Ro(c)k of the Pariahs, which comes at the end of string teen comedies that began with the 2005 hit Snowboarders. But while filmmakers await business results to learn whether sex, drugs and rock'n'roll continue to sell at the box office, upcoming films focused on young people are becoming more sophisticated. Three Seasons in Hell and English Rhapsody both feature young people contending with crucial moments in history – the former with the onset of communism in Czechoslovakia and the latter with the Anschluss. Bestiar, Crash Road, I Am Wandering and Kisses feature strong central female characters and will measure the box-office power of young women. Kisses will be shot in part on HD video. While producers watch the current boom of Czech filmgoers grow up, they are also casting an eye on the next generation. Fantasy-driven films Darkness, Last Children of Aporver and Code Name Maharal all seek to draw Harry Potter fans, including parents. Czech productions continue to see strong support from the State Fund for the Support and Development of Czech Cinematography, but not from the private sector as had been hoped. News of more projects and production support will likely be announced at the Finale Plzen film festival in Pilsen, April 3-9.