Interview: Vladimír Lhoták • Producer, Hausboot Production – “This film has propelled us into a position where we believe it will be easier for us to continue working on animated projects” – Producers on the Move 2022/Czech Republic

"This film has propelled us into a position where we believe it will be easier for us to continue working on animated projects"

– Already named Producer of the Year at Cartoon for making the biggest and most expensive stop-motion project in Czech history, the producer talks to us about his work across documentary and animation

Vladimir Lhoták has been selected to join the Producers on the Move class of 2022, representing the Czech Republic. Lhoták and his fellow producers on the animated feature Even Mice Belong in Heaven were awarded Producer of the Year at the Cartoon Movie Awards in Bordeaux earlier this year. Even Mice Belong in Heaven is a major milestone in Lhoták's career, as it is not solely his animated feature producing debut but also the biggest and most expensive stop-motion film in Czech history. Cineuropa caught up with the Czech producer to discuss his career beginnings in documentary production, setting up his own production outfit, and creating world-class animation.

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Cineuropa: How did your career as a producer begin?
Vladimír Lhoták: I began making documentaries under the banner of Fresh Films. And it made sense back in those days to continue developing an already existing production outfit rather than starting one from scratch. I produced a Czech-French documentary, Jenica & Perla, about two Roma girls, then I worked with Josef Abrhám Jr. on his feature debut Hotelier. In 2010, I met Denisa Grimmová and she told me she would like to make a film adaptation of Even Mice Belong in Heaven. My initial responsibility was to procure the rights. As the number of production projects I was working on increased, I decided to give up my role as executive producer and start working on only my own projects and I founded Hausboot Production.

How do you feel about documentaries?
I consider documentaries a very important genre and I would love to continue working on them. As a matter of fact, we did a documentary about Jiří Trnka: A Long Lost Friend at Hausboot. I love working on documentaries even though my pipeline is currently filled mostly with animated projects. Nevertheless, I'd like to work on more documentaries and I'm also interested in fiction projects.

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What brought you to animated cinema?
The project Even Mice Belong in Heaven took a long time to come to fruition. We were learning on the go from scratch without prior experience to be inspired by in Central Europe. The phase of development and financing was so valuable to learn to do what we could make, but it is something that grew out of our initiative. The success of Even Mice Belong in Heaven is inspirational.

The fact that we are continuing to work in animation means we learned something, we mastered something, and new projects keep arriving to us based on the buzz generated by Even Mice Belong in Heaven. This film has propelled us into a position where we believe it will be easier for us to continue working on animated projects. Since Even Mice Belong in Heaven is my and Denisa's feature-length animated debut, it was very important that we proved that we could deliver what we had conceived.

However, your work at Hausboot does not exclusively involve animation, or to put it better, traditional animation.
No, we are also developing transmedia projects. We are currently preparing an animated project with Marie Procházková, Hidden to Your Eyes, a collaboration with the National Gallery and the Czech Television where we want to facilitate for the audience an art exhibition of gothic paintings. We are preparing an anti-doc in two versions: for an adult audience, and a shortened version for a child audience. But we are also preparing an online gallery that will tackle the subject in greater detail and, simultaneously, the National Gallery is readying an accompanying app. We see this project as serving as a proof of concept for how to integrate art into the audiovisual medium and vice-versa, as well as how to bring audiovisual content into galleries.

We are also working on a hybrid project that combines live-action and animated filmmaking, Golem by Jiří Bárta. The film is currently in development, but we introduced the project last year at Cartoon Movie where it ranked among the top 10 most watched projects. In spite of the complex script and challenging visual imagery of the film, I think the visual imagery is more feasible now than when Jiří Bárta started to work on it twenty years ago. As we are working on the technology to be used, we know we will use live-action footage, a mixture of live-action and animation. Golem will include scenes rendered solely in CGI and stop-motion animation, more specifically claymation.

What other projects are you working on with the Even Mice Belong in Heaven team?
We are working on a short 2D animated film, Fear by Denisa Grimová, a Czech-French co-production aimed at an adult audience that deals with the topic of fear generated by the deluge of misinformation. Jan Bubeníček is preparing a 3D animated series, Veggierado, a western parody. And Denisa Grimmová and Jan Bubeníček are also preparing a feature-length follow-up to Even Mice Belong in Heaven under the working title Timeless. The story follows two 13-year-old protagonists whose grandparents shared history and they unfold a past injustice that happened to their grandparents in 1939. It will be a time-travelling mystery adventure with a bit of horror.

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