Czech film awards are reflecting the desire for international recognition

5. 2. 2019

Author: Martin Svoboda

Nothing Like Before, The Russian Job, King Skate, When the War Comes and Wilder than Wilderness. The first four mentioned documentaries nominated for prestigious Czech Lion awards - ČFTA have one thing in common – they had been successful outside the Czech borders before their national premiere. The members of the jury obviously have a soft spot for international accomplishment.

The presence of documentary films at mainstream film awards is problematic. People who decide about nominees and winners are mostly specialized in fiction films. Even the ghetto category "documentary film" is problematic by itself. Why don’t we have separate categories for documentary directors, DOPs or editors? Why there never was a documentary nominated for the best film? However the rules are not against it, the jury doesn’t even think about stepping out of the borders of fiction film.

It seems, the bigger the award, the bigger the tendency to praise the topic and agenda of the film rather than its cinematic quality. The jury chooses the film which tackles the most current topic and sends the right message. The Academy Awards are often criticised for this kind of decisions, but the same can be said about all similar organizations. Film awards thus function not only as celebrations of film but they also reveal their prejudice and stereotypes.

This year’s Czech film awards confirm the above mentioned tendencies, but they also suggest that the jury members are aware of them and they try to change them. The nominees for the Czech Film Critics’ Awards are Nothing Like Before, King Skate and When the War Comes. The Czech Lion Awards copied the selection and added two more films – The Russian Job and Wilder than Wilderness.

The jury is trying to find a compromise between "the most pronounced" and "the best", nominating films that were released internationally and successfully at that. Nothing Like Before and The Russian Job started their festival tour at IDFA already in 2017. When the War Comes premiered Berlin International Film Festival and King Skate was screened at Trieste Film Festival. These films are searching to be universal and to broaden their target audience. Wilder than Wilderness more domestic project among the group, had a record number of visitors in the Czech cinemas (93 156 visitors in 2018, premiered 22.3.2018 *source

This specific approach of the jury brings its own disadvantages, especially in the Czech documentary discourse, where a big part of the production focuses on the local market without the ambition to travel around the world. It is also not clear, if the awards represent the common viewer’s preference. Does the audience share the same taste, or does the jury follow the international festivals, so they don’t have to search for the quality material on their own?

We can only hope that the mainstream awards do reflect the interests of the broad audience and can reveal the taste of the public. This way, they can paint a helpful picture of our environment. While documentary filmmakers and documentary festival audience are exploring differences of the films in detail, Czech Lion awards and Czech Film Critics’ Awards are loud about their unanimous approach: "We want films with international accomplishments".

It is also worth mentioning that Czech Film Critics’ Awards opened up a bit to the need for spreading the documentary film across categories. The Nagano Tapes by Ondřej Hudeček were nominated in the category Outside of Cinema. The film was shot by a Czech crew for the international Olympic Channel, which only confirms the desire to be in contact with the foreign countries. Nothing Like Before was nominated in the category Best audio-visual work for its cinematography. Many critics want to see more documentaries in the main categories and this nomination (with good potential to win) shows a hopeful development.

The present and future of the Czech documentary film is being discussed in many passionate debates. The following example speaks for itself – internationally acclaimed documentary Central Bus Station won the Best Film at FAMU Fest, but it didn’t win the Best Documentary Film. Empire Builders, a documentary about a rather local topic, did win. It is a confirmation of the local being strongly connected to the "right" way of making documentaries. Even though Central Bus Station was a better film, it wasn’t a better documentary, at least for the jury. It will be interesting to see, how the filmmakers react to the fact that the film critics and the Academy look mostly beyond the Czech borders.

Czech Film Critics’ Awards for the Best Czech documentary went to Jan Gebert for his film When the War Comes (Produced by PINK - Alžběta Karáskova, Radovan Sibrt / HBO Europe - Hanka Kastelicová, Tereza Polachová / HULAHOP Film & Art Production - Dana Budisavljevic, Miljenka Čogelja, 2018, CZ/HR). The winner of the Outside the Cinema is Nagano Tapes (produced by Olympic Channel, 2018, US/CZ/CA) by Ondřej Hudecek and Jon Weinbach.

The winners of the Czech Lion Awards will be announced and awarded at the ceremonial gala evening that will take place in Rudolfinum on Saturday 23rd March 2019.

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