Closing ceremony… and next year we are celebrating!
“Ladies and gentlemen, I wish you good evening, for the last time this year”. At half past seven, speaker Radana Korená started the end: “It is my pleasure to introduce the last Annual prize of Association of Czech Film Clubs. It is my pleasure even more because usually we award directors but this time it is a representative of quite a different job. Invisible, but on the other hand, absolutely necessary, because no film could exist without such people. We invited one of the worldly notable designers, Mr. Allan Starski.” The award was presented in presence of Stanislav Blaha, the vice mayor of Uherské Hradiště, and film historian Ian Christie. Mr. Starski, who has also received Oscar, thanked „for the award and everything I could hear here. I was lucky to be allowed to work with good directors.“ Furthermore, he mentioned that in spite of spending only three days in Hradiště, he will remember it with pleasure. Speaker Jožka Kubáník took the floor a while later: “A week ago I said that LFŠ is the only school in the world attended by intellectuals which boast about it. I was trying to prove if it was true… and I’m glad it is. As I was coming home after 2 a.m., everyone was getting detention, and they were happy about it.” The floor was taken also by program director and very occasional cyclist Iva Hejlíčková, symmetrically decorated by plasters on both knees: “I would just like to say that my damaged appearance is not due to dramaturgic fights but only due to my clumsiness. I will try not to sit on any machine again so as to live to see the next year, and we will be able to compose a beautiful programme!” We will see in a year’s time when “Filmovka” is celebrating 40th anniversary!
Crazy Polish Manuscript found by Professor Christie of London
Those who expected Professor Ian Christie’s lesson to give them a clue how to decipher the remarkable Polish epic The Saragossa Manuscript, might have felt a bit disappointed on their way out from Reduta 2. “The film does not have the ambition to be logical; Potocki’s original novel was not logical either,” said Professor Christie in an attempt to fend off questions regarding his own orientation in the various levels of the film’s narration. The aim of the lecture was rather to present this film as a cultural phenomenon, a result of many different influences, and to sum up the reception it got after its release. Since 1950s, the reputation of films was created in Paris through film magazines, said Ian Christie. While the first review in the prestigious Cahiers du Cinema put the Manuscript down as “gratuitous film by an artificial and doubtless minor filmmaker”, the Positif magazine appreciated its “crazy construction” and that it is “truly picaresque, fantastic and pagan”. This film, in Britain interpreted in surrealist terms, was said to have influenced the classic of surrealist cinema, Luis Buñuel, who, as Christie said, “deeply admired it, seeing it three times and getting his producer to buy it for Mexico.” The fact that the audiences in the West have understood the film better than in Poland, where it was made, is attributed by Christie to the film’s two targets: the Catholic church and the prudishness of Socialist realism regarding sexuality and eroticism (due to which it convened to the values of the hippy movement in the 1960s): „While the ‘new wave’ of Polanski and Skolimowski were attacking this in a cool ‘modern’ way, Has’s SM is a full-frontal assault, with nudity and ‘oriental’ eroticism to the fore,“ compared Christie the Manuscript’s director Wojciech Has with the two younger filmmakers, debuting at the time. After its premiere, the film was cut down by 35 minutes, from both political and commercial reasons, and its full version could be seen again only at the end of the 1990s. “But let’s be realistic, the shortening probably helped the film’s success. A friend of mine, a film exhibitor in Britain, told me that whenever they wanted to make some money, they would screen the Manuscript,” concluded Professor Christie with a personal memory.
What was Japanese cinematography like at the time of Kaneto Shindo? That was the topic of an intriguing lecture by festival programmer Jiří Flígl. “Since the 1950s, there was a studio system in Japan that we know from the American cinematography. Shindo had his own production company, but he was not completely separated from the studios: he did a number of screenwriting commissions for them, shot by other directors.” Flígl then acquainted the audience with more tendencies in post-WWII Land of the Rising Sun. An extremely successful genre of the 1970s was exploitation film, full of nudity and violence, which saved the studios from winding down. “Even Shindo didn’t avoid exploitation. He wrote screenplays and produced some films of this kind,” said Flígl.
The First Blockbuster in History – In Slovácké Divadlo!
“Gone with the Wind is the climax of Hollywood’s studio era,” introduced Iva Hejlíčková the screening of the war drama made in 1939. She described the film’s genesis as a “story of one man’s stubbornness”, the man being producer David O. Selznick, who, after many years in the studios, became an independent producer. Gone with the Wind was one of the first stories he came across. He purchased the rights to Margaret Mitchell’s unpublished novel that was to become a bestseller. Iva Hejlíčková stressed Selznick’s marketing mastery: the producer cleverly appealed to the readers of the book to send him tips on the possible cast of its film adaptation. He made them feel they were a part of the filmmaking, thus creating future audiences. “In the end, the greatest battle was fought over the role of Scarlett, whom everybody wanted. The literature states a number as high as 1400 actresses,” she pointed out one of the interesting figures, which was followed by an amazed “f***ing hell” from the audience. In the end, regardless of the fans’ opinion, Selznick cast Vivien Leigh, a British actress totally unknown in the US – plus he did it when the shooting had already been under way. The film became a blockbuster and won eight Oscars. The Best Supporting Actress Award went to Hattie McDaniel – which was the very first time this award was won by an Afro-American. The Afro-American audiences did not embrace the film unconditionally as too formulaic. “Even considering inflation and several new premieres, Gone with the Wind remains the all-times box-office success. This of course doesn’t say anything about its artistic qualities – which I don’t think are exceptional – but it is a proof that during its golden era, Hollywood was able to produce intelligent, professional spectacle that resonates with audiences across decades,” concluded Iva Hejlíčková.
Estonian Director Ilmar Raag and his Bullied Class
An hour before midnight, there was not a single free seat in Klub kultury. The audience gave a round of applause for another important guest – Estonian filmmaker Ilmar Raag. The audiences, strongly touched by his film The Class, asked the 45-year-old director about the circumstances around the idea of shooting the film, and its reception. Raag said that his film about high-school bullying was inspired mainly by the shooting in American Columbine: “At that time I studied in the USA and the mother of a schoolmate of mine was a psychologist helping the bereaved and survivors of the Columbine massacre. From her account I understood that things were not as black-and-white as they were later presented by the media.” In his psychological and sociological study of character, he has two outcasts who experience such humiliating bullying by the collective that they take up armed revenge. Raag cast young non-actors with whom he started doing workshops. Upon finishing the film, Raag toured schools and held discussions with teachers and students. He often experienced that the moments perceived by the teachers as overdone were considered absolutely realistic by the students. The financing of a film with such a controversial subject was also discussed. “I was afraid it would be complicated, but before that I had been a programme director in Estonian TV where I had founded a programme aimed at the co-financing of exactly this kind of controversial projects. When I left the TV, I sent my screenplay to this very programme,” explained Raag the circumstances of the making of The Class, which has been shown in more than 80 countries. This film, but also others, is going to be discussed at Ilmar Raag’s masterclass this afternoon in Reduta 2, where you are very welcome.
“Good evening everybody, it’s so nice to see a full auditorium,” said the festival director Radana Korená, and went on, “I do hope it will please also our precious guest who comes from Portugal. It is a speciality of Jan Jílek’s to discover for us cinematographers who are not very well known here.” The senior programmer himself said: “Pedro Costa is a director with a very specific, coherent filmography … he is interested in the relationship between a documentary and feature film. There’s no need to say any more, let’s watch his bio.” After the short clip, the director was presented the Annual Award of Czech Film Clubs and flowers, and kissed by young ladies in local folk costumes. With the award in one hand and the flower in the other, he remarked he felt like a Christmas tree and said: “I do like awards ...usually I am getting the smaller, but the more pleasant ones … Also the cities where I get them tend to be the most pleasant ones.”
At the opportunity of the 70th birthday of Czech National Film Archive, nine wide-screen delicatessens were shown, and supported by Anna Batistová’s lecture where she thoroughly analysed the development and history of wide-screen format in Czechoslovakia. She said about the format as such: “Wide-screen format can be seen properly only on the screen. It’s not only that it is narrowed on the monitors, it’s also that you cannot see everything the filmmakers intended to show you.” Later she came back to some of the creative principles: “For instance, you can put one character on one the side of the screen and another one on the other, thus creating a psychological distance between them. Sometimes, on the other hand, we see the tendency to fill the whole width of the screen – it is said that characters hang there as washing on the line.”
The Warm Welcome of Star Director in Cinema “Star”
“It’s been a long-standing tradition that Tuesdays at SFS belong to the Slovakian film clubs. Our sister organisation, same as ours, is celebrating its 20th anniversary,” said director Radana Korená in her opening speech, introducing her dear guest: “For me, Dušan Hanák is one of the few moral as well as charismatic people, and I have been looking forward to him very much. I do hope you will enjoy his feature debut, 322, that you are about to watch. I also recommend the stall of the Slovak Film Club Association in the foyer, where you can get hold of all the DVDs with Dušan Hanák’s films.” Then the director shortly joined her on the stage, accepted the congratulations to his recent 75th birthday and had a short speech: “I would like to thank you and the festival’s management for the intensive, friendly atmosphere, the selection of high-quality films … and last but not least, the sensitive and perceptive audience.” In a minute, this very audience was enjoying 322 with the genius of supporting roles Václav Lohniský in the leading role of his life.
Rui Poças and His Visually Intriguing Transsexuals
The most highly sought-after Portuguese cinematographer Rui Poças held a discussion after the screening of his queer melodrama Die Like a Man. The visually distinctive drama of a dying transsexual is based on personal stories of real Portuguese drag queens. “The greatest visual inspiration for me was the topic of the film itself. We didn’t want to shoot at drag-queen shows, we were interested chiefly in the characters’ private lives,” commented Rui Poças on the shooting with director João Pedro Rodrigues. “The domestic audiences have accepted the film quite well – the target audience is not very big anyway. Portuguese cinemagoers are very conservative, I remember the emotions triggered by our first film about homosexuality, Phantom, shot in 2001,” added Poças.
The discussion panel entitled Film and Ideology: National Socialism in Film was a truly broad one. It was hosted by Aleš Říman. One of the important inputs was by German specialist Sonja Schulz: “It is important to bear in mind that the Nazi regime was obsessed with film. Both Hitler and Goebbels were unsuccessful artists. Goebbels studied cinema – he watched several films every day, focusing on the way the Americans and the Russians worked … he loved the Battleship Potemkin and Mrs Miniver (screened here on Friday evening). On some things, the two disagreed: Hitler thought propaganda was done mainly for the dumb masses and that it should constantly repeat things so as to get the message across. Goebbels, on the other hand, thought it should be more subliminal and entertaining – he thought that maintaining good mood was essential during wartime. During the Third Reich, about a thousand films were made, a hundred out of which were propaganda. Around forty of them are banned in Germany – in the sense that they cannot be screened without a commentary or released on DVD. Some of them are hardcore propaganda, such as Jew Süss, some are more entertaining. It is easy to get a wrong impression of what the then film production was really like.” Jana Havlíková of the Jewish Museum in Prague explained what the so-called Theresienstadt films were: “They were actually made in the Theresienstadt ghetto. Here, a great role was played by the fact that even in the plans of the German authorities, Theresienstadt was supposed to play the propagandistic role of a place where Jews can live in peace, where nothing bad happens to them and where they are helped by everybody.” There are two Theresienstadt films: “The first one, about which we do not know much, was made in 1942 but has not been preserved … only about hundred fragments in the total running time of four minutes. It was probably meant to serve the SS as some sort of instructions – how to build your own Jewish ghetto.” You will be able to watch the whole 22 minutes of hypocrisy of the second one, The Fuhrer Gives a City to the Jews, on Wednesday.