Agora Talks: producer Hanka Kastelicová talks about HBO Europe documentaries

Agora Talks: producer Hanka Kastelicová talks about HBO Europe documentaries


Every year Agora invites film specialists to share their practices and expertise with the Festival audience. On Friday July 2nd, Hanka Kastelicová, documentary producer, HBO Europe – Czech Republic, delivered a presentation in the context of Agora Talks. She talked, among others, about HBO Europe co-productions and the kind of projects the company searches for.


Hanka Kastelicová stated: “I am so glad to be here in Thessaloniki, enjoying the sunshine, the summer heat and this wonderful atmosphere. I hope you enjoy having me here too. It was like yesterday, nine years ago, that I packed my things, left my family in Slovenia and moved to Hungary to work in HBO company. Over the last years I have been thinking of my job as a documentary producer in HBO Europe. I am going to give you more information about who we are, how we work, what our achievements are, who you can contact us or work for us. Initially I started working in Budapest, where the head office of HBO Europe was located. Now I am working in Prague, as our company is expanding in many European countries”.


She went on to say: “HBO Europe was founded in 1991 in Hungary, following the Fall of Communism. Hungary was an innovative country and the perfect place to start business. At that time there were public broadcasters everywhere and it was a good idea for a company to run a business related to media. HBO expanded its business very fast in the Czech Republic and in Poland and during the next ten to twenty years the company we set up branches in the Adriatic Sea, in Romania, a very important country for us, and in Bulgaria. The year 2012 was very significant as the HBO Nordic was created. Initially this attempt didn’t fit in with HBO Europe, as in the latter we have internal channels and an online platform, whereas in HBO Nordic there was just a platform and services were a bit different. We have also expanded in countries as Spain and Portugal. During the next ten years our intention is to make further steps to this direction”.


She continued by talking about the way HBO original productions kicked off: “In early 90s our goal was draw material from the American HBO, but in 2007 the Polish branch had a different idea. We searched for a way of strengthening our communication with the audience and we came up with the idea of carrying out original productions. We wanted to focus on local stories in order to show to the audience that we were interested in its needs. So, in 2007, we did the first HBO documentary production. I have to say it was a good start and the documentary became a box-office success. I have tried hard for co-production and co-financing. I would wish to present to you six films that I love and to show to you the way we assign projects. I always search for something special. Queen of silence is a story of a deaf Roma girl living in Romania, who loves dancing. Agnieszka Zwiefka is the director and the whole film is riddled with excellent choreography”. I was excited and the movie was a hit in the box-office.


Hanka Kastelicová, referring to the film Toto and his sisters, pointed out that she knew that the film was directed by an excellent director who had already won the Emmy award: “Alexander Nanau’s film was a box-office hit and was screened in several Festivals. Later on, Something better to come, directed by Hanna Polak, was released. The shootings of this film lasted many years. Hanna Polak had been shooting her protagonist living and growing up in very bad conditions in a landfill, near Moscow. We usually turn to local stories, but Hanna’s story was not the case. We were motivated by the fact that Hanna was a very good director and an Oscar nominee in the past”.


Mila Turajlić, in The other side of everything illustrates her own story, her struggle for freedom by approaching her own story as well as her mother’s in a unique way. Houston, We have a problem! is a docudrama, with a small pinch of fiction and lots of archive footage. The film focuses on the rumours about the way Tito, the President of former Yugoslavia, had sold Yugoslavia’s space program to the US. This is a Slovenian film, directed by Žiga Virc, a young and talented director”.


“Komunia is a well known film that treats a beautiful coming-of-age story. The film was nominated for Oscar awards and directed by Anna Zamecka. The films we produce usually have a minimum duration of 70. We want for the content to make reference to local stories in a way to approach the local audience; we certainly aim at international stories. HBO is a synonym of quality. When you work very hard for a film, this film will undoubtedly be screened in Festivals. It takes usually four to five years for a film to have its premiere, so this is a long-term cooperation”.


Mr. Kastelicová explained: “Even in cases where producers contact us to completed projects, we try to take part in the production. Our goal is for us to check them and vice versa. We try to work on the film, to prepare a good trailer, to add more shots, always in relation to the place where the project is set. We pay attention to legal copyright issues. We have teams and producers in all countries we closely collaborate with. As for the new directors’ films, we do many extra shootings to see where we will focus on, and how the characters will develop. We try reach the peak of every film, to put it in Alexander Nanau’s words. Komunia was Anna Zamecka’s first film. She was very careful and protective with her film. The film was perfect and ready to be released, but Anna thought that she could have worked more in order for the film to reach the highest level of quality. She decided to add 60 minutes to the duration of the film, and the film got better and was a box-office hit”.


She continued by stating: “We closely collaborate with our partners and we always collaborate with the same teams. You have to have high expectations. I am very pleased, for instance, when I ask directors where they would wish for their film to make its premiere and they answer me in Sundance. I believe that high expectations are very useful. I would wish to talk about Collective, directed by Alexander Nanau. It is about a fascinating story of a group of journalists in a Romanian newspaper and their hard journey toward the revelation of a case of fraud, corruption and misuse of public money. We gradually developed the project. Alex took his camera and decided to explore all possibilities; the outcome turned out wonderful. His trailers are like short films, the structure of this is evident from the trailer. I fall in love with a strong plot. I have to be the one responsible in all the film making process”.


The producer also points out: “Let’s talk about HBO Nordic and HBO Spain, where we produce documentary series. We want to do some changes; therefore, we are in the search of new projects. I am going to present to you a documentary for the politician, Jesús Gil. Our Spanish team believed in this film and the film took the title The Pioneer. Another story I found out in Barcelona Docs and I adored, had to do with the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in Barcelona. It was a very humane and moving film. This was our second documentary series. Another series we have been working on for three years is Pray, Obey, Kill. It is about a real murder - this is our first documentary series of this genre – and a very interesting one. The atmosphere is very particular, there is something uncommon. The plot is about a case of murder in Sweden that shocked the country and turned to be very popular in media. We cooperated with Henrik Georgesson, a very experienced director, we loved so much. I loved that story because it is a story of strength and although it takes place in a particular country, Ι was identified with the film. Similar crimes are committed in religious cults worldwide”.


The producer went on to mention the company’s changes: “As I have already mentioned the company changes. Yesterday we celebrated the beginning of HBO Max in Latin America. We will provide the film market with more film genres, more fiction and mainstream series. We have cooperation with the Discovery; consequently, there will be more changes and opportunities for better projects. What we’re interested in are strong stories. We are open to brand new ideas. You may contact me or your local offices. When you come up with a project idea, you should have a treatment, a synopsis and the visuals, even potential protagonists or a trailer. You should read out loud your story in order to see if it’s clear and simple. You should use short expressions. Finally, you have to be patient, because we receive a lot of projects!”.