21. September 2005

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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 foreign orders in 2004. Insiders dismiss rumours that Warner Bros. is eyeing the Czech Republic for Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but continue to hold their breath for a decision from director Martin Campbell on a location for the latest Bond instalment Casino Royale. The film would raise Prague's profile from that of a Central European hub to an A-list film capital. The last James Bond thriller, 2002's Die Another Day, had an estimated budget of $142 million, and even considering the significant savings Eon Productions would realise by shooting in the Czech Republic, Casino Royale would bring an unprecedented pile of money to the local industry. In 1996, Mission: Impossible shot in the Czech capital 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 arrival of Hannibal and Omen. Local film service production company Etic Films has landed co-production billing for the former and a production services contract for the latter. Neither film has released budget details. Meanwhile the local industry continues to churn out film after film for local audiences, increasingly with an eye on the local box-office. Whether any of these Czech films will achieve successful international distribution remains to be seen. The Czech production most likely to have legs is I Served the King of England, directed by 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 capable of bring the book to the screen, but even he faces significant challenges. The project has been in pre-production for several years, owing to disputes over rights to the story. Hrabal's book spans a period of 40 years, so the film would need at least two actors to play the main character; casting has thus far proven difficult. The script, which Menzel himself is writing, is said to be unfinished. It is also unclear whether the film will be shot in Czech, English or both. And with an estimated budget of $1.3 million, whopping by Czech standards, 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 though producers predicted doom more than a year ago when public broadcaster Czech Television announced it would no longer finance films. Earlier this year, private broadcaster TV Nova, owned by CME Enterprises, entered the production business with the local hit From the Subway With Love. Based on a novel from the popular author Michal Viewegh, the film approached the box-office high-water mark of 500,000 admissions in just three months. TV Nova hopes to duplicate that success with another Viewegh adaptation, Ucastnici zajezdu, which translates roughly as 'Travelling Companions'. The film tells the story of a coachload of Czech tourists on holiday to the Black Sea. Viewegh is reportedly working on two other screenplays. Although Viewegh-penned films may be successful in the Czech Republic, they lack international reach. Three of the author's books have been adapted for the screen, but none have had international distribution. Producers have relied on long-term TV sales to make up the balance of the investment not met at the box office. Also likely to make a splash at the Czech box office but hardly a ripple abroad are a wave of teen sex comedies. Despite good results for such imports as Germany's Girls on Top and the American Pie franchise in previous years, Czech directors stayed out of the randy teenager genre until last year's Snowboarders. To the remarkable surprise of the producers, the film has seen a whopping 600,000 admissions since its premier in November 2004. Since Snowboarders, director Karel Janak has parted company with producer Whisconti and has recently wrapped a sequel, Rafters, which transports the action from the white slopes to white water. He will return to the director's chair for The Ro(c)k of the Pariahs next spring. Whisconti meanwhile is staying in the game with Experts. Rafters and Experts, will be released in early spring. But despite any local success at the box office, such films are likely to remain a bargepole's distance from international buyers. Meanwhile, the Czech darling of the festival circuit will be Lunacy, from cult director Jan Svankmajer and based on stories by Edgar Allen Poe. Although Svankmajer's previous film, 2000's Otesanek, saw only meagre success at the Czech box office, drawing only about 56,000 admissions, it did have international distribution. Zeitgeist Films handled distribution in the U.S, where the film grossed a little more than $100,000. Lunacy stands to repeat that success abroad and at home thanks to its heavyweight cast, which includes Jaroslav Dušek, Ana Geislerová, Pavel Liška and Jan Tříska.