American audiences know HBO for its premium programming: TV shows like “Game of Thrones,” “Girls,” “Veep” and films like “The Normal Heart.” What they probably don’t know is that HBO produces original content abroad–original content, it’s worth noting, in languages other than English.
Last year, HBO Europe released its first original show, “Horici ker (Burning Bush),” a Czech language miniseries set during the USSR’s 1969 occupation of Czechoslovakia. It had a serious pedigree–the series was helmed by Polish director Agnieszka Holland (an Oscar nominee for “Europa Europa”)–and it debuted in January 2013 to critical acclaim and numerous awards. Holland has also directed HBO series such as David Simon’s “The Wire” and “Treme.”
“HBO as an American and as an international brand is associated with original and innovative work,” Antony Root, HBO Europe’s Executive VP of Original Programming and Production, told The Hollywood Reporter at New Europe Market in Dubrovnik, Croatia. “And that’s certainly our aspiration.”
It might be some time before the network builds up a diverse portfolio of programming in Europe. “I think it’s gonna take time before the majority of our drama work is original,” Root told THR. “And that’s because, for one thing, there isn’t a heritage in this region of screenwriting for drama series.” Root says that as writers in the region begin to produce dramatic material, we’ll see more and more original dramas in Central Europe.
HBO has original TV shows in development in Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Romania. A Polish-language series called “Wataha (The Pack)” is set to air later this year.
Kino Lorber acquired the U.S. rights to “Burning Bush” earlier this year, and the film has screened in North America at the Telluride, Toronto and New York Film Festivals. It is currently playing at New York’s Film Forum,”and a national theatrical run is planned for this summer, followed by VOD and home media releases later in the year.