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PRODUCTION / FUNDING Czech Republic / Slovakia

Zátopek, a biopic on the titular “Czech Locomotive”, in production

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- Czech director David Ondříček will continue shooting the ambitious drama about legendary runner Emil Zátopek until mid-December

Zátopek, a biopic on the titular “Czech Locomotive”, in production
Václav Neužil as Emil Zátopek (© Dušan Martinček/Lucky Man Films)

Czech producer-director David Ondříček has wrapped the second production phase on the period drama and biopic Zátopek, about Emil Zátopek, a Czech distance runner nicknamed the “Czech Locomotive” and the holder of several world records, who was singled out as Greatest Runner of All Time by the editors of Runner’s World magazine in 2013. Shooting will continue, with several breaks, until mid-December. Ondříček co-wrote the script with writer-director Alice Nellis and composer Jan P Muchow, and the movie is a reconstruction of Zátopek’s life, with Ondříček revealing that the story is more about politics than sport. The other main character besides the legendary runner himself is his wife, Olympic javelin thrower Dana Zátopková.

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Ondříček fully immersed himself in the life of Emil Zátopek when he prepared the documentary Zátopek in 2016. “It is almost a classic story of an outsider and someone who was basically not a very talented athlete. At the same time, it is a story about a man with a tremendous will and desire to win, someone dogged and resilient who has become a legend. He was a lonely but thoughtful runner and a cheerful talker who longed for admiration. An athlete with a burning desire to defeat his rivals and then lovingly dedicate a gold medal to them,” explained the director as he described Zátopek’s allure. The film is said to be framed as a conversation between Ron Clarke – an Australian athlete who goes through a personal crisis after failing in his last attempt to win an Olympic gold medal – and Zátopek when he visits him. Various situations in Zátopek’s career are portrayed throughout their talks, in flashback form.

The title role is portrayed by Václav Neužil (Anthropoid [+see also:
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), and starring opposite him as his on-screen wife is Martha Issová (Seven Ravens [+see also:
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, Dukla 61). The cinematographer on Petr Václav’s The Jumper, We Are Never Alone [+see also:
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and The Way Out [+see also:
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, Štěpán Kučera, is lensing the biopic. Besides contributing to the script, Jan P Muchow is composing the music for the film with Beata Hlavenková, a composer who worked on Ondříček’s award-winning two-part TV film Dukla 61 (this year’s nominee for the Venice TV Award), about a mining tragedy.

“Screenwriter Alice Nellis and director David Ondříček have managed to craft a very impressive portrayal of this phenomenal Czech athlete. Zátopek is an audience-orientated film, despite the fact that it doesn’t avoid uncomfortable topics and steers clear of simplifying them. I believe it will appeal to those who want to be proud of the famous Olympic winner, as well as to those who are more interested in the political backdrop and the relationships behind his achievements,” said Helena Uldrichová, a creative producer from Czech Television.

Zátopek is being produced by David Ondříček and Kryštof Mucha, of Lucky Man Films, and co-produced by Czech Television, Z Films and Barrandov Studios, plus Slovakian outfit Azyl Productions. The Czech Film Fund and the Czech and Slovakian Olympic Committee are supporting the film. The budget is estimated at €3.6 million, and the domestic theatrical release is scheduled for August 2020.

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