Good Docu News from Czech Republic

On this blog you have often met the sentence ”East Beats West” referring to this blogger´s enthusiasm for original documentaries from Eastern Europe. The central point for spreading knowledge about the situation, and for stimulating the sector through festivals, workshops, training sessions and brilliant website is the IDF (Institute of Documentary Film) in Prague. IDF has released this press release about ”Czech Documentary Film in 2010. It includes an overview of viewer numbers for Czech Television, cinema attendance, festival awards, funding suppport from the State Fund for the Support and Development of Czech Cinematography, and Czech TV. But also some well argumented worries for the future. I think documentarians in many other countries will nod affirmingly when you read the pro’s and con’s:

Czech documentary film in 2010:

  • 16 Czech documentaries released in cinemas
  • Highest cinema attendance for documentary film: Katka – 117,000 filmgoers
  • Documentary funding from the State Fund for the Support and Development of Czech Cinematography: CZK 33 million granted to 39 projects
  • Czech Television allocated CZK 157 million in external and internal costs to 786 projects
  • Highest viewer numbers for documentary programme on Czech Television’s channel 1, ČT1: 13. komnata Kateřiny Kornové – 1,250,000 viewers
  • Highest viewer numbers for documentary programme on Czech Television’s channel 2, ČT2: Marital Etudes 20 Years Later – Mirka and Antonín – 504,000 viewers

Prague, February 9, 2011 – Czech documentary film did fairly well in 2010. As in the previous year, sixteen documentaries were released in cinemas, yet according to the Association of Film Distributors, documentary films attracted over 160,000 filmgoers, i.e., nearly three times as many compared to 2009.

With 117,000 filmgoers, Katka (photo) by Helena Třeštíková was by far the most successful documentary film, miles ahead of Olga Špátová’s The Eye Over Prague (21,000) and Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák’s Czech Peace (7,000). “Along with the success of Czech documentaries abroad, this positive trend is a cause for optimism for the coming years,” says Hana Rezková of the Institute of Documentary Film, a training and resource centre that has since 2001 been closely following documentary developments in Central and Eastern Europe.

Helena Třeštíková’s documentary feature Katka posted exceptional results in cinemas (117,000 filmgoers), which would be considered high even for a feature film. “People knew the first part of Katka’s story from my documentary film that ran on Czech Tv several years ago and they wanted to find out more. Drugs still are a very current topic. Katka and both men in her life were able to be very open about it and the film generates a lot of debate,” suggests filmmaker Helena Třeštíková who already had a great audience success with her 2008 film René. Last month, Katka also received the Czech Film Critics Award for Best Documentary Film of 2010. 

Czech Documentary Films at International Festivals

In addition to its local success, Helena Třeštíková’s Katka was awarded at the 2010 RIDM, Montreal International Documentary Festival. Czech Peace received an award at DMZ-DOCS in South Korea; The Eye Over Prague was recognized at the Warsaw Film Festival, and All That Glitters at DOK Leipzig. Czech documentaries were also screened at other international festivals. “Czech documentary tradition is very diverse, and it includes a lot of interesting people with very different styles and approaches in both form and content. That’s what I really like about documentary film. I feel that all doors are still wide open,” adds Helena Třeštíková who remains optimistic about the future. “I believe that the golden era of documentary film still lies ahead. Interest in documentaries is on the rise around the world, which makes them all the more interesting for producers and distributors.”

State Fund for the Support and Development of Czech Cinematography
Funding provided by the State Fund confirms the growing quality of Czech documentaries. Although the total amount of money available in the Fund decreased in 2010, documentary films received CZK 6 million more than in 2009. Documentaries were granted a total of CZK 33 million, i.e., 15% of the total grant budget. “Out of 63 documentary applications, the Board of the State Fund approved funding for 39 projects, while only one half of feature projects received support. These figures suggest that the quality of documentary films is high and it should also be emphasized that the Board gives preference to creative projects over made-for-TV programmes,” explains Kateřina Ondřejková, the Board’s spokeswoman.

Documentary Films and Czech Television in 2010
Czech Television remains a key institution for local documentaries. In 2010, Czech TV spent more than CZK 107 million in external and over CZK 50 million in internal costs on 786 documentary projects – acquisitions, production, co-production and commissions. Moreover, Czech TV introduced a new programming and organizational structure this year: “Czech TV’s channel 2 also plans to establish a platform for communication with filmmakers at meetings, seminars and programming debates, as well as for inspiration over creative proposals. The results of these changes will be really apparent in our programming sometime at the end of 2011 and in 2012,” commissioning editors Jana Kopecká and Zdeněk A. Tichý outline the plans.

What changes have already taken effect? The commissioning editors add that “compelling society subjects returned to prime time, there will be one-hour culture programmes, and a number of short documentary series on history and culture subjects.” Czech documentary films that are broadcast on Thursday evenings will now be part of theme nights.

As in 2009, Czech TV’s viewer figures overwhelmingly favour documentary programmes dedicated to celebrities – 13. komnata (The 13th Chamber); Příběhy slavných (Lives of the Famous). Their dominance was broken only by Helena Třeštíková’s Marital Etudes 20 Years Later on Czech TV’s channel 2. Kopecká and Tichý list a few factors that influence viewership: “It is about the subject, approach, credit of the filmmakers but also a few other things. Strong Czech documentaries that meet most of these conditions and generate good word of mouth post very good numbers.”

Czech Documentary Film in 2011
According to Hana Rezková of the Institute of Documentary Film, despite the good news, 2011 will not be all smooth sailing. “An entirely new mode of communication between filmmakers and television will be required for the new commissioning system introduced by Czech TV. Any soft spots that might appear will have to resolved on the go.” And despite the benefits of digital theatrical distribution, another challenge will be to find more space for documentaries in cinema programming. “Given the current economic situation, we cannot possibly expect any increase in public funding. We still believe, though, that Czech documentaries will continue to draw viewers at home and abroad as the most inspiring and engaging films Czech cinema has to offer,” concludes Hana Rezková.

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Tue Steen Müller
Tue Steen Müller

Müller, Tue Steen
Documentary Consultant and Critic, DENMARK

Worked with documentary films for more than 20 years at the Danish Film Board, as press officer, festival representative and film consultant/commissioner. Co-founder of Balticum Film and TV Festival, Filmkontakt Nord, Documentary of the EU and EDN (European Documentary Network).
Awards: 2004 the Danish Roos Prize for his contribution to the Danish and European documentary culture. 2006 an award for promoting Portuguese documentaries. 2014 he received the EDN Award “for an outstanding contribution to the development of the European documentary culture”. 2016 The Cross of the Knight of the Order for Merits to Lithuania. 2019 a Big Stamp at the 15th edition of ZagrebDox. 2021 receipt of the highest state decoration, Order of the Three Stars, Fourth Class, for the significant contribution to the development and promotion of Latvian documentary cinema outside Latvia. In 2022 he received an honorary award at DocsBarcelona’s 25th edition having served as organizer and programmer since the start of the festival.
From 1996 until 2005 he was the first director of EDN (European Documentary Network). From 2006 a freelance consultant and teacher in workshops like Ex Oriente, DocsBarcelona, Archidoc, Documentary Campus, Storydoc, Baltic Sea Forum, Black Sea DocStories, Caucadoc, CinéDOC Tbilisi, Docudays Kiev, Dealing With the Past Sarajevo FF as well as programme consultant for the festivals Magnificent7 in Belgrade, DOCSBarcelona, Verzio Budapest, Message2Man in St. Petersburg and DOKLeipzig. Teaches at the Zelig Documentary School in Bolzano Italy.

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