Film roundup with critic Ilona Francková


It’s that time of the year again for the Czech film industry; the red carpet is about to come out for the Czech Lions – that is, the top Czech film prize awarded by the Czech Film and Television Academy – but there have also been a series of higher-than-ordinary-profile films of late and some new directions taken in the industry. In the studio to talk over some of that, and to give us an idea of what’s to come, I spoke to film critic and reporter Ilona Francková, who has had a careful eye on the goings-on of the Czech film world for much of the last decade. She was one of the main writers for the popular cinema monthly Premiere and reports on film and culture for a wide range of publications in the country. I began by asking her what Czech films might soon be making a splash outside of the Czech Republic.

“Czech movies making a strong international release, you mean? I’m not sure any of the movies from last year will get a strong international release. Protector had a chance, since it was put forward for an Oscar nomination, but it didn’t get one, so it is being released in the United States, but it won’t get a wide release, and I’m really not sure it will achieve any major success. If we’re talking about wide release, I’m really not sure there. But some of the Czech movies were noticed in the festivals, like Protector was, or the small but interesting movie the Ferrari Dino Girl, made by Jan Němec, which is an experimental movie, but one that’s really special. It’s like nothing else you’ve seen, so it really stands out.”

Can you tell us more about that film? What genre does it fit into?

'Ferrari Dino Girl''Ferrari Dino Girl' “Ferrari Dino Girl is a drama; Jan Němec is a renowned director from the New Czech Wave. It’s a very personal story from the Russian invasion of August 1968. He got this exceptional footage that he shot himself during the invasion and he smuggled this footage to Austria. And we follow this story and then we see the 16 minutes of unique footage that he got.”

Back to Protector… that and Three Seasons in Hell were two films that really got a lot of pre-release attention, I think a lot more than there usually is, or that seems to be the case to me at least. Also Walking Too Fast was a small budget production that there was a lot of talk about. Are there new promotional methods being used here or were the films actually interesting enough to grab the attention on their own?

“I think all these movies are very good. But there is a reason why they got special attention. For instance Protector got extraordinary support from the Czech film fund. Two years ago it got 12 million crowns, and there was a lot of talk about that, because that was really an extraordinary amount. And it was developed for about two years, which is normal for a movie of that size. And because it’s a war drama it’s an interesting story that people talked about. And we were always being reminded that it received this 12-million in state support. It’s about an interesting topic, so people talked about it. And with Three Seasons in Hell, it was made by a renowned director of commercials, and I assume he made sure it got promoted very well. So you could see posters all around town, which doesn’t happen so often, because usually the distributors or the producers don’t invest money in promotion, they just don’t.”

And so is Protector the obvious candidate for a Czech Lion then?

“It’s really hard to say because the three movies nominated for the best movie award, or the best screenplay or the best director are all very strong. And those are Protector, Three Seasons in Hell and Kawasaki’s Rose. And it’s really hard to tell which one the academy will prefer. You know, these three films got the most nominations out of all of the 34 Czech movies that were released last year. And the chances are the votes will just spread out among them. So it’s really hard to tell. And in other categories, it’s quite likely that they will prefer the least favourite movies, just to prove that they have seen them.”

So is there no sure bet in any category?

“No, sorry” [laughs]

Well one last thing about Protector, why do you think it didn’t get the nomination for an Academy Award? Do you think it wasn’t strong enough, or was it just not the right year for it?

'Three Seasons in Hell', photo: Falcon'Three Seasons in Hell', photo: Falcon “I would say that Protector is an exceptional movie, within the Czech context, it really is. It has great acting… it’s just great overall. It obviously isn’t that special in the context of world cinema. And the fact that it’s set in WWII is just not enough. Although it’s quite interesting that most of the Czech films that have been nominated for an Oscar have been set in WWII, like the Shop on Main Street, which is a Slovak movie, or Closely Watched Trains, or Divided We Fall, or Želary, which were also nominated. The only exception is Kolja, which is set during the end of the 80’s and the beginning of the 90s.”

Looking at the year to come, how do you see the global depression playing out on the Czech film industry? What kind of impact has it already had and how do you see the prospects for next year?

“I don’t think you can see the impact yet, because these movies have been developed for a couple of years, so their budgets are already covered – they were covered before the economic crisis. So we can look forward to movies that were not affected by that, like two documentaries, Katka, by Helena Třeštíková, which is about a drug addict and is going to be a very strong story, or Oko nad Prahou, which is a documentary about Jan Kaplický and his library by Olga Špátová. And there will also be movies released by really big names in the Czech Republic like Jan Svěrák and Alice Nellis this year, so we can look forward to that.”

Ilona FranckováIlona Francková Okay, my last question is entirely for myself, to satisfy my own tastes: when is there finally going to be a really good Czech sci-fi?

[laughs] “There is no tradition for genre movies in Czech cinema; we mostly make comedies or comedy/dramas, so…”

And so there’s no hope of that tradition ending some time in the near future?

“I really wouldn’t keep my hopes high for it.”