Hit parade of last year’s top Czech documentaries, and a taste of next year’s batch

22. 3. 2017

Author: Marta Obršálová

In 2016, filmmakers pleased the Czech cinema audience with a total of 20 documentaries. The tables of cinema-goer figures for Czech cinemas were led by Trabantem do posledního dechu (Trabant – From Australia to Bangkok) with a total of 73,810 viewers. Probably the best-known contemporary traveller, Dan Přibáň, started from Perth, Australia, and headed to Thailand which is far from exceptional. However, he toured with a crew in two yellow Trabant cards, with no accompanying team whatsoever. Number two was Helena Třeštíková and Jakub Hejna’s Zkáza krásou (Doomed Beauty), which tells the story of the actress Lída Baarová. The audience also favoured the look behind the stage of one of the most notorious music bands, Lucie: Příběh jedný kapely (Lucie: The Story of a Rock Band). Normální autistický film (Normal Autistic Film) by Miroslav Janek, a film awarded a Czech Lion for 2016’s best documentary and opening the private, inside world of autistic people, should also be mentioned. The controversial film about the Děčín district league club, FC Roma, which consists primarily of Romany players, was also popular with the audience. The last two of the aforementioned documentaries are included in the KineDok catalogue, an international project of alternative distribution for documentaries which offers 16 films from Central and Eastern Europe. They are screened at more than 200 interesting locations in 8 countries; in the Czech Republic, the locations include cafés, parks, galleries or youth centres.  Also the Bratříček Karel (Brother Karel) directed by Krystyna Krauze should be mentioned; it portrays a number of unknown events in the life of Karel Kryl and introduces archives which have remained unknown to the general public until now.

Czech Television has been one of the biggest co-producers of Czech documentaries in the long term.  This is the fourth year of the Český žurnál (Czech Journal), a series of five documentaries with critical reflection on important events in the preceding year. Such author’s documentaries include Krtek a Lao-C' (Little Mole & Laozi) concerning the Chinese President’s visit to the Czech Republic and the Czech authors’ team visiting China. V nejlepším zájmu dítěte (In the Child’s Best Interests) follows the destinies of children ending up either in institutional care or in short-term foster families. The Exekuce (Don’t Take My Life) describes a personal story and experience with the financial execution proceedings. Výchova k válce (Teaching War) handles the question of what to do in the case of an armed conflict, and the last film, Český Alláh (Czech Allah) is a documentary probe into the Czech citizens’ opinions and attitudes towards the current influx of immigrants.  

In the first months of 2017, Czech cinemas introduced new documentary works. The beginning of January saw the premiere of a long-awaited feature film by Helena Třeštíková, Strnadovi (A Marriage Story), recording 35 years of life of a married couple. Another swallow in January was Viktor Kuna and Martin Král’s film, Krkonoše, capturing a unique view of the highest Czech mountains, the development, flora, fauna, history thereof and man’s activities therein. We may look forward to the premiere of a Kateřina Hager film, Děti Online (Children Online) about the new generation of children who spend more time in the virtual reality than by playing in the playgrounds, or Díra v hlavě (A Hole in the Head) directed by Robert Kirchhoff on the tragedy of the Romany and Sinti people in WWII. This year, the two films competed within the prestigious festival One World in the Czech Competition category. The audience can also look forward to the premieres of works by established authors like Filip Remunda and Robert Kirchhoff, namely Pára nad řekou (Steam on the River) telling of the Bohemian lives of three unusual jazzmen affected by the Russian occupation of Czechoslovakia in 1968.

And what is in the pipeline of the Czech documentary making? Film makers are already at work, preparing other interesting documentary projects in various stages of completion. The East Doc Platform organised by the Institute of Documentary Film in Prague is an important event for both directors and producers. Five feature documentaries in preparation were presented therein to invited representatives of prestigious international film festivals, sales agents, distributors as well as the public. The films include: Až přijde válka (When the War Comes) telling of a young boy’s determination to defend the Slavic world with weapons in his hands, Švéd v žigulíku (The Russian Job) about a Swedish manager’s effort to save the losing automotive industry of Russia, Planeta Česko (Wilder Than Wilderness) concerning the reinstallation of nature in locations affected by civilisation, Český Pepík jede do Polska poznat lásku k Bohu (Pepik the Czech Goes to Poland In a Quest for Love of God) confronting the “Czech and Polish” God, or Mečiar (Mečiar the Movie) reflecting the rise to power and the fall of the Prime Minister, never really accepted by the politician concerned.   

The trend of the past years clearly shows the Czech audience’s increasing interest in documentaries to which the filmmakers respond. The numbers of good quality films have been increasing; besides Czech production companies, foreign investors have taken part in the films as well. In 2016, a significant change in the financing of Czech audio-visual industry occurred as well. The Czech Republic’s Parliament also passed an amendment to the audio vision law which guarantees a regular income to the State Cinematography Fund budget. In comparison to the past, the funds have almost doubled and ensured stability which the Fund lacked before.

In 2016, the State Cinematography Fund issued a total of 35 calls for domestic grants (compared with 29 calls in 2015), with the total allocation of 12.95 million EUR / 350 million CZK.
The support of documentaries by the State Cinematography Fund was in:
2016 - total of 953 704 EUR / 25 750 000 CZK
2015 - total of 874 445 EUR / 23 610 000 CZK
2014 - total of 779 630 EUR / 21 050 000 CZK
Since the 2013, the Fund has also administered the Czech incentives scheme. For documentaries the condition of eligibility is the minimum volume of Czech cost for documentaries: 74 000 EUR for feature documentary.

Film Distributors Union (UFD),
State Cinematography Fund

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