Czech films drive local box office

    Czech films conquered the local admissions and helped drive the 2008 box office to an all-time record and post-Communist record admissions of 12.9 million.

    While local films have always been popular with Czech audiences, the nearly 40% share of the 2008 box office is unprecedented, placing the Czech Republic in second place only to France across Europe.

    The rise comes concurrent with an increase of Czech releases in cinemas; a record 38 Czech films were released in 2008, while the total number of films released dropped to just 201, a three-year low. U.S. films claimed 51% of box office, while other European films captured 8%. With Czech films having a longer shelf life locally, it's other European productions that are being squeezed out.

    However, the news comes with a downside. "Many films aren't having an effect in cinemas. The top 20 films get over 50% of box office, and the median (21,000 admissions) is lower than five years ago," Ales Danielis, Bontonfilm (www.bontonfilm.cz) director of theatrical distribution, told FNE. "Small commercial films have a short life, go onto second and third run screens and last only two or three weeks -- and single screen cinemas don't want to show them."

    That makes blockbusters, such as Bontonfilm's 2008 market leader Bathory, with over 900,000 admissions, more important to the top distribution companies. With middle performing films, distribution companies can only break even.

    An exception to the rule is art house films that have scored at certain international festivals. Sundance, Cannes, and Karlovy Vary wins translate in profitable art house releases of under ten prints. With 24 multiplexes now operating in the Czech Republic, a typical commercial film release requires a minimum of 24 prints. "New films from young directors without any special publicity are lost," Danielis says.

    Meanwhile, more Czech films are attracting international sales agents and foreign distribution. One example is the success of Czech comedies in Poland. Bonton is responding in kind. It distributed Andrzej Wajda's Oscar-nominated Katyn and is currently in discussions to pick up a commercial Polish film this year.