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Artemio Benki • Producer

“In the Czech Republic, you always have the luxury of choice”


- Cineuropa talked to Artemio Benki, a producer for Czech outfit Sirena Film, who co-produced two films in this year's Cannes line-up

Artemio Benki  • Producer

Artemio Benki is a French screenwriter, director and head producer at Czech production outfit Sirena Film in Prague, where he has been living since 1992. He served as line producer for the Nicolas Cage and Jared Leto starrer Lord of War, was executive producer on Xavier Giannoli's Marguerite [+see also:
film review
interview: Xavier Giannoli
film profile
and co-produced Olivier Assayas' Personal Shopper [+see also:
film review
interview: Artemio Benki
interview: Olivier Assayas
film profile
. In 2000, he founded an independent distribution company, Artcam, focusing on award-winning indie cinema. As a screenwriter and director, he has several short documentaries under his belt, such as Gloria L, My Land, the mid-length title Moon Valley and a segment in the anthology film Prague Stories. Cineuropa caught up with him to discuss making films in the Czech Republic.

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Cineuropa: You co-produced Xavier Giannoli's film Marguerite, which was premiered in the main competition at Venice and eventually received 11 César nominations, cashing in on four of them. How did you, a producer for the Czech Republic, get on board the project?
Artemio Benki
: I had known the director for a pretty long time, and he told me about the story ten or 15 years ago. He already had the idea for the film. He was shooting some commercial or other in Prague and was already, at the time of writing, thinking about making it in Prague. And later, things changed in terms of financing, so it was even easier to make the project happen in the Czech Republic.

Why was Giannoli considering shooting the film in Prague?
It was because of the location, since the period architecture is still intact – not just on the outside, but on the inside as well. That is not so obvious in France or other countries. Even if the outside has been preserved, the interiors may not have been. And also, the Czech Republic is film-friendly – you can shoot more or less anywhere. The whole film was shot on location in Prague.

Two films you co-produced were recently unveiled at Cannes: The Dancer [+see also:
film review
film profile
and Personal Shopper. What is the story behind these projects?
Well, both directors are great, and that is why they ended up at Cannes. How did those films come about? Well, it was partly luck and, especially in the case of The Dancer, they wanted to shoot everything in Prague, but then it looked like they would shoot mostly in France because of the locations. I wanted to co-produce The Dancer,and the process was similar to Marguerite. I had been following the project for some time, and I explained to a French co-producer that the more we shot in the Czech Republic, the more financial backing we would receive from the country, getting rebates and minority support from the State Cinematography Fund, and we could also apply for Eurimages. So it was a mixture of artistic reasons, enthusiasm from my side and great financial opportunities in Prague.

How did you get Olivier Assayas to shoot his film in Prague?
As was the case with Marguerite and The Dancer, it was because of the financial support. I knew that Olivier wanted to build the sets on stages, and budget-wise, he was never going to make it unless he went somewhere else. Even though the story does not take place in the Czech Republic, we shot on Czech stages using things that the Czech Republic knows very well how to make.

Did you use the Barrandov Studios?
Actually, they were fully booked at that time, so we shot it at Výstaviště, and there were several shots in a house in Prague. We did around 60% of the film in Prague, and the rest is France, London and Oman.

So does the Czech Republic have all the necessary facilities to accommodate international projects like this?
Of course – the Czech Republic is a good location for shooting because of the very intelligent crew, the equipment and the high degree of professionalism. Most importantly, you can get this in good numbers, so you always have the luxury of choice, which is not so common in other countries. Besides the crews, you have plenty of stages and locations to shoot at, and it is still pretty easy to shoot there in terms of feeling welcomed.

What are you working on now?
As a company, we are working on Scandinavian projects – for example, The Ash Lad (read the news), with Norway – and for the most part, they will be shot in the Czech Republic. And as for me personally, within the company, I am involved with two French projects, which will be announced shortly.

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