Czech Documentaries Out of Comfort Zone in Karlovy Vary Competition

29. 6. 2018

Author: Martin Svoboda

The Karlovy Vary IFF is undoubtedly the right place to look for well-made Czech movies, documentaries included. It works as an interesting counterbalance to the Jihlava IDFF that can be seen as the “festival capital” of Czech documentary scene celebrating it from the point of view of the filmmakers themselves. The strong “Jihlava generation” is a community-phenomenon with all its pros and cons. Karlovy Vary, on the other hand, follows a stricter international course and tries to keep its distance from the Czech scene. Just like with all other submissions, only the best Czech films can be accepted.

There are two of the best films this year. Breaking News (Mimořádná zpráva) by Tomáš Bojar was the first submitted film of all. Inside Mosul by Jana Andert almost didn't make it as it was finished at the last minute. Both these films can't deny their potential — both for a different reason. Breaking News focuses on something absolutely inappropriate for the international audience — local politics. The presidential election is a very tricky theme because every Czech knows maybe a little too much about it, while every non-Czech honestly couldn’t care less. How do you make a documentary film with information interesting and important for both sides? Is it impossible? It seems Tomáš Bojar managed to find a way to frame the story in a new, relevant way, which – if done well – can transcend the local pond. Bojar follows two media staffs eager to catch the breaking news about the decision of the current president Miloš Zeman whether he plans to run for the second term. Known for his contempt for journalists, the president wanted to share this information out of their reach, only among his friends without any press conference.

This shift of focus from the local politician to a theme as timeless as media coverage and communication between journalists and authorities opens up a new range of potential. Bojar can ask questions beyond the specificity of a single election. The Czech filmmaker finds an original concept which feeds the topic — that is not a matter of course. Bojar has a chance to conclude his artistic growth as a filmmaker searching for a unique approach. Inside Mosul by Jana Andert looks like a more direct film — a report document from a war zone which promises raw experience, supervised by the experienced editor Tonička Janková. The importance of the movie for the Czech documentary environment is more apparent — it is not usual for a Czech documentary filmmaker to film abroad unless they make a travelogue or a biography of a traveler. Even the successful The Russian Job (Švéd v žigulíku) had some topical Czech connections. The importance of Inside Mosul for an international audience is not as apparent as the competition of last year’s festival hits like Of Fathers and Sons and The Deminer is quite strong. But if the material is touched by a talented hand, the result can still be great and suggestive for everybody.

An honorable mention should go to the Czech co-production, primarily the Latvian film Putin's Witnesses (Svideteli Putina) by the experienced Ukrainian-born director Vitaly Mansky about the rise to power of the Russian president. Czech support for this film highlights the strong point of Czech documentary cinema. As there is a long way to go from the point of view of international relevance, the coverage of local controversial themes is exemplary. Czech documentary filmmakers are used to expressing themselves freely and without any compromise about any political issue of our time — it is only logical to support others to do the same.

The Czech documentaries in competition do hold some potential for local and international cinema. In the end, of course, we must wait for the end result as the good concept is only a promise. But a promise we have a reason to hope will be fulfilled.

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