KARLOVY VARY — While the Czech Republic remains an attractive location for international feature film and, increasingly, TV series production, it is facing tough competition from other European countries. Boosting the nation’s prospects in the international film sector has become a key issue for the government of Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka, who recently visited Los Angeles to meet with industry execs and tout the Czech Republic’s many assets.
Sobotka spoke to Variety about the importance of the film industry and his government’s efforts to support the sector and encourage more international productions to shoot in the country.
How important is the film industry for the Czech Republic?
Although the film industry represents just a fraction of the GDP of our country, it is very important. It provides employment to a lot of people from various professions, and it increases awareness about our country and attracts tourists to the Czech Republic, which helps create jobs in the tourism sector. We attempt to support, and the state attempts to finance the creation of Czech films, but we also provide incentives, so that we can attract international productions, and we have been succeeding in this overall.
Another dimension of film is that Czechs are major film fans, film is an important part of our cultural identity and each year, besides being a site for several international film shoots, the Czech Republic also hosts multiple film festivals. We are very proud of our cinematic successes. I believe that within countries comparable in size with the Czech Republic, we are unusually successful, we have numerous world famous creators and films, and some Czech films have influenced European as well as international cinema.
More specifically, how important are international productions for the Czech film industry?
The Czech Republic highly appreciates the presence of foreign productions. Nearly CZK 1 billion [$41 million] is spent annually on production of Czech films. Foreign companies in the past few years have spent more than CZK 3.5 billion annually, which is more than $125 million. However, spending by foreign production companies depends on specific films. When large blockbusters are shot in the Czech Republic, foreign production companies spend much more here.
There is enormous competition in this area because producers can select from multiple ideal destinations. However, the Czech Republic has a specific position in the center of Europe, with a variety of historical locations, a quality film infrastructure and qualified and trained crews. I also need to mention that the Czech Republic is among the safest countries in the world, and this also makes it very attractive for film makers.
The Czech Republic introduced the 20% rebate incentive in 2010. Is it likely that your government will raise the rebate to 25% in view of strong competition from other European countries?
One of the topics of the debate with American filmmakers in Los Angeles was the option of increasing film incentives from the current 20% to 25%. The Czech government is aware of the competition in this industry, and therefore it is currently analyzing and considering this option.
What was the outcome of your meeting with U.S. film industry representatives and what were your impressions of the U.S. film industry?
At the discussions, I was reminded of the great reputation of the Czech film industry and its interest in establishing cooperation with American film studios. The Czech Republic can offer a lot of attractive locations and skilled crews. Our government has also increased for the State Cinematography Fund the volume of funds intended to finance film incentives — $33 million are now available for this purpose annually.
Visiting the global capital of the film industry is a major experience for everyone. It is where people realize the magnificence and potential of the film industry.
What role does the Karlovy Vary Film Festival play for the Czech Republic?
The Karlovy Vary International Film Festival is the most important film festival not only for the Czech Republic, but in Central and Eastern Europe as a whole. With its unique atmosphere and worldwide fame, the festival annually welcomes thousands of visitors from the professional community and the general public, which makes the Czech Republic one of the most important European film centers. The Karlovy Vary festival is the life blood of the development of Czech film and a major benefit for film culture.
What films have you enjoyed recently or managed to see at Karlovy Vary?
As a film fan, I have recently enjoyed a wide range of films, and I can mention at least the three most recent ones from this year’s festival. Matt Ross’ film “Captain Fantastic” was very attractive with the excellent Viggo Mortensen starring in the main role. Of the Czech films, I was most impressed by the film “The Teacher” from one of my favorite directors, Jan Hrebejk. At the festival I also enjoyed “Tiger Theory,” presented by the president and main architect of the festival, Jiri Bartoska [who also stars in the film].