JIHLAVA: The decision by the jury of the Czech national documentary competition Czech Joy at the 19th Jihlava IDFF which concluded on 1 November 2015 echoed hints of a problem in Czech documentary production.
While there is no dearth of documentary production coming from the Czech Republic, industry observers noted that low budgets and a lack of international aspirations were hindering quality. In response to the jury decision to give no main award in the Czech competition, festival director Marek Hovorka said, “In the long term, Czech documentary filmmaking is underfunded.” He added, “The difference between funds allocated to fiction films is ten to twenty times higher than to documentary films.”
In an industry panel discussion on the funding of Czech documentary films, Czech TV Milan Fridrich said the typical budget for a TV documentary is under 20,000 EUR. Production output is high, however. Czech TV is producing 130 documentaries this year, which is an average annual yield. Czech TV has no plans to change its output of documentary films in 2016, but funding for documentary production through the Czech State Cinematography Fund could double next year. The fund now allocates 29m CZK for documentaries, with 70 – 80 percent of that going to production. Fund council member Premysl Martinek said that fund looks favorably on international coproductions due to increased distribution opportunities.
One bright spot for documentary films on the domestic market is increased opportunities for them to receive cinema releases. Over 20 documentaries are being released in Czech cinemas this year, although many of them are in limited release in order to qualify for the national film awards, the Czech Lions. There is also an audience for the best of those films. The highest attendance registered at 130,000, although audiences in the low thousands is more typical. Panelists noted a need to develop skills in the area of documentary distribution.
Hanka Kastelicova, executive producers of documentaries for HBO Europe, noted how few documentary producers attended the panel, saying, “Czech documentary producers don’t have international ambitions,” unlike their counterparts in Poland, Hungary and Romania.
A presentation the following day by the Balkan Documentary Center underscored Kastelicova’s point. Few local producers attended the BDC presentation on coproducing with the Balkans, where seven coproductions were introduced, some with budgets as high as 400,000 EUR. Robert Zuber, commissioning editor from Croatian TV, was in attendance, and seeking projects. Panel moderator Ana Alexieva from Bulgarian production company Agitprop which organizes BDC, noted that Croatian TV is especially active and supportive in documentary production. With efforts to increase the amount of funding going into Czech documentary filmmaking, too few local filmmakers took advantage of the festival’s own efforts to foster the documentary film industry.