Crowdfunding history: Indie Czech filmmaker takes on story of 13th century outlaw Oldřich of Sukořín

'Zbojník', photo: Kastner Film

Medieval history buffs and Czech opera fans may well know the story of the occupation of Bohemia by the Margraviate of Brandenburg, soon after King Ottokar II died in battle in 1278. The tumultuous period was the setting of Bedřich Smetana very first three-act opera, Braniboři v Čechách, whose overriding theme was the Czechs’ struggle to rid themselves of oppressive Germanic rulers. But few outside of the Pilsen region know the tale of the outlaw Oldřich of Sukořín – a Robin Hood type figure, who battled the Brandenburgs from a forest stronghold. The legend has long captivated the imagination of Leoš Kastner, a young Czech filmmaker from the region now shooting a historical drama financed through crowdfunding. Before delving into his film project Zbojník (The Outlaw), his second independent feature, I began by asking him how he got started in film.

“My name is Leoš Kastner, and I’m from Přeštice, a small city near Plzeň. I’m a filmmaker but mainly a camera operator. I study at the Ladislav Sutnar Faculty of Design and Art in Plzeň, where I study Multimedia. It’s a study programme with some film disciplines like cinematography, directing and editing, CGI (computer-generated imagery) and 3D art.

“I started with film as an independent beginner 10 years ago, and I’m editing my films using Adobe Premiere, and for 3D art and CGI, I use After Effects and Autodesk Maya – so it’s mainly with software that I’m making movies.

You started 10 years ago and are now 24… Was there someone in your life who inspired you to go in this direction? Do you come from an artistic family?

“My grandfather is a painter, but my family is especially into electro-mechanics and techniques. So, I’m kind of the ‘black sheep’ of the family.”

Could you tell me a bit about your first movie, Trash Town. What was your vision?

Leoš Kastner,  photo: Kastner Film

“Trash Town was my first feature film. It’s a post-apocalyptic movie. In 2017, I had a dream about the end of the world – a pandemic destroys civilization, and I was in a city where many different nations – British, German, Czech, Muslims – and it inspired me to make Trash Town. It’s a legacy of the migration crisis.

“The filmmaking was not so good at the beginning because our group split and I was alone. After one year, I found a new group of people and that same group from Trash Town are now working on The Outlaw.”

What did you learn from working on Trash Town?

“It was a great experience because I learned a lot about how to use an action camera – working with out combat coordinator, Vojtěch Vrobel – and how to lead a crew, so it was the best experience I’d ever had.”

Let’s turn to the story of Oldřich of Sukořín. You are from that area. Did you grow up hearing stories about him or learn about this historical figure in school? Or when did you become interested in the story?

'Zbojník',  photo: Kastner Film

“Well, firstly, the Middle Ages is my love – I’ve always loved medieval stories. The main story of the film The Outlaw, or Zbojník in Czech, of the bandit Oldřich of Sukořín is from the area where I lived. I spent my childhood in this forest of Sukořín. And from this forest, there are so many dark and mad myths and legends from this forest that it inspired me. There will be a lot of things inspired by history, but the main story is fictional.”

Everyone knows the legendary Slovak highwayman Jánošík. Does the average Czech –who is not from your area – know who Oldřich of Sukořín was? Is he such a famous figure?

“No, he’s not as famous as the Slovak bandit Jánošík. But there are some famous Czech bandits, like Ondráš of Janovice, and I was inspired by his story. The main story is after the death of the Bohemian king Ottokar II, and Otto V, the Margrave of Brandenburg, will arrive to the Czech kingdom and plunder all the region – so he’ s the main negative character in the story. Some noblemen help Otto V plunder the region and in our story one of them is Gerhard von Ammendorf, a Brandenburg noblemen, and another negative character.”

Could you tell me a bit more about Oldřich of Sukořín [son of Držek from Roupov, the first recorded nobleman the estate] as you envision him? Is he a bandit who becomes more of a patriot and gets involved in ‘fighting the good fight’, so to speak? How does the character evolve?

“Well, we know that the English bandit Robin Hood or the Slovak one Jánošík were folk heroes. Oldřich will have a dark side – mainly he will have a good character, but some dark part to his soul.”

'Zbojník',  photo: Kastner Film

You’ve already mentioned the combat coordinator Vojtěch Vrobel. I understand you’re also working with a Medieval Studies professor and a local expert from the local House of History.

“I work with Vojtěch Vrobel, who is also a screenwriter, and so a very important person for the film. And with the history of this region, some legends and reconstructions of some medieval buildings here, Michal Tejček from the House of History – Přeštice.

“And the main historical consultant is [Charles University professor] Josef Žemlička, who has written many books on the Přemyslid dynasty. And I’m also working with musical composers Jan Valta and Adam Sporka, from the game studio Warhorse – they did the Kingdom Come: Deliverance soundtrack.”

So a lot of experts are involved in the project and volunteering their time – I know this is a crowdfunded film and you’ve got a very tight budget.

“Yes, a lot of professionals and I managed to get these professionals excited about it. I want to get the money through a crowdfunding campaign on Startovač ( The money will go mainly into costumes, locations and some promotion and distribution.”

'Zbojník',  photo: Kastner Film

You’ve already filmed a trailer to help promote it in connection with the crowdfunding. I understand that a lot of scenes will be done with green screens and CGI to keep costs low, right? Can you tell me a bit about that process?

“The green screen studio is at the Ladislav Sutnar Faculty of Design and Art, where I study. But we don’t want to have a lot of such scenes in GCI and effects.”

Do you have an inspiration for this kind of filmmaking – is there a particular independent director or guerrilla filmmaker who inspired you?

'Zbojník',  photo: Kastner Film

“I’m inspired mainly by the famous director Ridley Scott and his movie Kingdom of Heaven – which is historically accurate. I like the ethos of his movies.”

You mentioned that some of the money is going for locations – there’s the Malešov fortress and the Curia Vítkov.

“Yes, the main story of bandit Oldřich of Sukořín will be filmed in that forest. The village life will be filmed in Curia Vítkov – it’s a replica of a medieval village from the 11th century – and the Malešov fortress has beautiful interiors and there we will film the life of the noblemen.”

And your crew is already doing some historical reconstructions – of an old church in Přeštice and the Chotěšov Monastery and the Roupov Castle. What makes these locations significant for the story?

“Yes, I’ve always been interested in how the old church Přeštice looked. And Chotěšov Monastery is where the main female character lives, Anna of Krašov. It was destroyed by the Brandenburgs – it will be ambushed by them in the film. We don’t know what they actually looked like in the Middle Age as we have no pictures or texts. But it interests me to bring them to life.”

'Zbojník',  photo: Kastner Film