Žatec: Czech town providing perfect location for major productions including JoJo Rabbit

27-02-2020

The Czech town of Žatec is best-known for its exceptional hops. But in recent years it has also been the setting for many Hollywood productions, including the movies The Zookeeper’s Wife and JoJo Rabbit, which won an Oscar earlier this month.

Žatec, photo: Klára StejskalováŽatec, photo: Klára Stejskalová The hit Hollywood movie JoJo Rabbit – about an enthusiastic young Nazi whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler – was partly filmed on the main square and elsewhere in the Czech town of Žatec.

'Un sac de billes', photo: Gaumont Distribution'Un sac de billes', photo: Gaumont Distribution During a break from shooting, director Taiki Waititi discussed the project at Karlovy Vary International Film Festival in summer 2018.

“It’s been an amazing experience here in the Czech Republic. We’ve been able to get a production scale on this project that I don’t think we would have got in other places. It’s been a really lovely experience so far. We’ve got a really fantastic cast and they’ve had an amazing time here as well.”

Earlier this month Waititi earned an Oscar for Adapted Screenplay for JoJo Rabbit, while Czech woman Nora Sopková was nominated in the Production Design category.

Žatec’s regular use as a film location has become perhaps the second most notable thing about it; the northwest Bohemian town is known to beer enthusiasts around the world for producing very high quality hops, also called Saaz hops from the town’s German name.

'Jojo Rabbit', photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures'Jojo Rabbit', photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures Among the other notable movies shot in Žatec have been Yentl, Les Miserables starring Liam Neeson and Roman Polanski’s Oliver Twist.

Žatec, photo: Klára StejskalováŽatec, photo: Klára Stejskalová But why has the town become a go-to location for international film and TV productions? Jaroslav Špička is deputy mayor.

“We also ask that question frequently on the town government. And filmmakers and producers always give us a similar answer – it’s the historical centre, which we owe to our history of hop-growing, wonderful preserved buildings and granite paved streets. All of these reasons are why filmmakers choose Žatec as a location, and not just for historical projects.”

Many locals are happy to see their town flooded with film crews. However, the Nazi theme of JoJo Rabbit did upset some sensibilities during the shoot, says the deputy mayor.

“One group are aware of the benefits to the town’s coffers. They enjoy coming across historic or modern sets, watch filming and get work as extras. But on the other hand, we have seen that some people were upset by the Nazi symbols. People called in saying they were hanging up too early, when the actual shoot wasn’t going to be for two days or so. But it took just one phone call to the production unit and everything was covered until the day of filming.”

Jaroslav Špička says the Žatec authorities are hoping to make more of the town’s growing on-screen visibility.

'Jojo Rabbit', photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures'Jojo Rabbit', photo: Fox Searchlight Pictures “So far we’ve seen just a small rise in tourist numbers. We’re trying to support a film exhibition at our ‘Malt-house’ Gallery. And around a month ago our arts and tourism committee commissioned the creation of an app that will highlight spots where international and domestic works have been shot. We want to support tourism more in that way.”

Other international productions that have used Žatec as a backdrop have been the TV series The Scarlet Pimpernel and the French WWII film Un sac de billes.

Žatec, photo: Klára StejskalováŽatec, photo: Klára Stejskalová
27-02-2020