This year, three Czech documentaries are included in the official programme and two of them are up for prizes at International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam - IDFA – Lukáš Kokeš and Klára Tasovská’s Nothing Like Before, Petr Horký’s The Russian Job and Vit Klusak’s The White World According to Daliborek. Here, we have a look at these incredible films – and also look back to other Czech highlights that impressed at the festival in last decade.
The First Appearance competition at this year’s IDFA sees Czech film, Nothing Like Before in the running for the prize. The film, directed by Lukáš Kokeš and Klára Tasovská (produced by nutprodukce and co-produced by HBO Europe) documents the lives of four teenagers living in a Czech border town as they anxiously finish high school exams and brace themselves for a world beyond the comparative comfort of the education system. The up-close-and-personal shooting style provides a captivating portal to the young people’s lives, and whilst we witness them relaxing on beaches, or drunkenly dancing in rap concerts, we also see them having to confront the grown-up realities of love, careers and even more scarily, becoming parents. Film was supported by the Czech State Cinematography Fund.
This nomination in the First Appearance category follows that of Czech film, Always Together in 2014. Directed by Eva Tomonova and produced by Jiri Konecny - endorfilm, the film showed the life of an eccentric Czech couple and their nine children, and how they exist in relative harmony around their ramshackle, self-built home. Despite the parents’ extensive education, they choose to shun the system in preference of their own learning programme, and survive on benefits. Under Tomanová's skillful hand, the film is a compelling and thought-provoking look into an absurdist lifestyle choice - and was very unlucky to miss out on the First Appearance prize when it was nominated.
Vít Klusák’s hard-hitting documentary, The White World According to Daliborek is presented in the Masters selection, joining the latest documentaries by renowned documentary auteurs such as Errol Morris, Claire Simon, Steve James, Rithy Panh, and Lucy Walker. The film, produced by Filip Remunda - Hypermarket Films, is a chilling glimpse into the unhinged life of a Czech neo-Nazi – a man who likes to paint, compose vulgar rap music and create roleplays in which he’s violently attacking Romas. Film was supported by the Czech State Cinematography Fund.
It is not Klusák’s first IDFA appearance, his previous films were already included in the previous festival's programme. In 2004, his film project, Czech Dream (co-directed and co-produced together with Filip Remunda) was shown. The film was a brilliant exercise in the power of marketing, in which a fake Czech shopping centre selling cheap goods was advertised with the misleading slogans of "Buy nothing" and "Don't come.” The mall – an empty field covered with a façade of bright cloth – enticed shoppers in their hoards, and with him and Remunda posing as the store managers, it makes for a tense yet highly amusing outcome. Klusák’s other notable appearance at the festival was his 2010 documentary, All for the Good of the World and Nosovice (2010). Focusing on a Czech village which produces automobile parts for Hyundai, the film documents how rural life is being destroyed by urban capitalism and how the strict business Korean practices are forcing the local workers into grueling shifts. Of the nine people that are followed, the story of one landowner who stubbornly refuses to yield his land – erecting a mocking motor-car part statue with his death threat letter attached – is certainly the most powerful, and the film is an astute political comment against the evils of consumerism.
In the Mid-Length Competition, The Russian Job by Petr Horký is nominated. His debut film, produced by Martin Jůza of Krurtart, co-produced by Czech TV and with the support of the Czech State Cinematography Fund, focuses on the Lada automobile factory in Russian city Tolyetti and new Swedish manager Bo Andersson’s attempts to modernize an archaic and corrupt system. Through amusing and revealing snapshots of Russian life – and its many depressing stereotypes – Horký delivers an intriguing tragi-comedy that shows just how Europe’s largest country is steeped in its country’s Soviet past. Film was supported by the Czech State Cinematography Fund.
Although this is the first ever Czech nomination in this category, the bleak but brilliant Katka by Helena Treštiková, was nominated in the IDFA Competition for Feature Length Documentary in 2010. This pulsating yet decidedly grim film told the story of Katka, a heroin-addled 19-year old battling her demons on the Czech streets. Shot over a period of 12 years, we are privy to the protagaonist’s arduous journey of addiction, recovery, her love-life and her struggles with motherhood – a journey that cruelly descends into a routine of abject suffering. Treštikova’s subsequent film in 2012, Private Universe (both films produced by Negativ Film Production) was also showcased in the Masters category. The duration of filming for this movie was even more drawn out, the footage spanning 37 years in the life of one man – Honza – from his birth to present day. Honza’s mother – an old friend of the director – agreed to the filming of the birth and it spiraled into a three-decade long cinematic focus, which showed Honza’s progression from baby to boy to eccentric man, against a backdrop of huge political change.
In the last decade, the IDFA festival has also brought the attention of international cinema goers to a number of other intelligent and well-crafted Czech documentaries. Citizen Havel (premiering at IDFA in 2010) was a wonderful portrait of a man who, through his valiant efforts during the Velvet Revolution in 1989 and subsequent Presidency, took Czechoslovakia from the dark recesses of communism to become an independent, democratically secure state. Directed by Miroslav Janek and Pavel Koutecký (and produced by Pavel Strnad for Negativ and Jarmila Poláková of Film & Sociology) the film focused on his time in office, dealing with economic crisis, the death of his wife Olga and his new marriage to actress Dagmar Veskrnova. Through it all, Havel demonstrated that he was a man who possessed dignity, humanity and a great deal of warmth.
Welcome to North Korea by Linda Jablonská was another film that caught the eye at IDFA in 2009, which followed the director’s trip to North Korea, via a Czech travel agency. By secretly filing her experiences, Jablonska revealed the workings of an unnerving country, with a social and economic framework that is steeped in the dark and bizarre totalitarian practices of Kim Jong-Il.
Filip Remunda’s own directorial offering, Village B., was nominated in the Silver Wolf competition in 2002. The film – this time without Klusák on board this time – sees Remunda following amateur filmmaker Jaroslav Tříska around the village of Blšany. Focused on the life of football club FC Chmel Blšany – a club playing top-flight football despite being based in a village with less than a thousand inhabitants – the pair revealed that the village was the subject of Czech TV cameras each home game, then resumed its sleepy status during the week. As the villagers get more disillusioned with capitalism, the feeling from the majority is that they would like to return to the old system.
All these films are testament to the growing quality of Czech films, although none of them emerged victorious. With two documentaries up for awards this year, there’s a slight feeling that the trend might be about to change.
IDFA runs from 16-29 November in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. For more information on Czech films featured at IDFA, go to www.idfa.nl
Interview with Petr Horký
Interview with Vít Klusák