More than 700 different cultural events have been planned to coincide with the Czech Republic’s EU presidency. While a lot of these concerts and exhibitions are taking place in the Czech Republic itself, another major centre of activity is, it goes without saying, Brussels. In his role as the head of the Czech Center in the Belgian capital, Petr Polívka has his work cut out. I spoke to him at the opening of a new exhibition at the center last week:
One of the biggest hits with audiences at the One World film festival, which came to a close in Prague on Thursday night, was Japan: A Story of Love and Hate. It is a portrait of a non-conformist, fifty-something ‘kept man’ whose much younger girlfriend holds down three jobs, including being paid to talk to men in bars. While very funny, the documentary also offers a fascinating insight into Japan’s rigid culture, including scenes of workers whose day begins with obligatory exercises and chants about achieving targets. I asked its English director
Contemporary Czech art made international headlines after the Czech presidency of the European Union unveiled the famous Entropa artefact by David Černý in Brussels in January. But contemporary art is doing well in the Czech Republic, too: two years ago, Meet Factory opened in Prague with studios for young artists; last year, the privately-owned DOX gallery opened in the capital. And another such venue of contemporary Czech art is the Vernon Fine Art gallery in Holešovice.
Letters to the President is a documentary about the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, known around the world for his verbal attacks on America and Israel. In this film, however, the focus is very much on Ahmadinejad’s relationship with the people of his own country, hundreds of thousands of whom send the populist politician beseeching letters. The film’s Prague-born Canadian director Petr Lom got remarkably close to the Iranian president, though his uncritical approach has been denounced by some.
The Reckoning: The Battle for the International Criminal Court, which has been shown in the One World film festival, focuses on the work of the permanent tribunal established in 2002 and most recently in the news for issuing an arrest warrant for the president of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir. However, the court, based in the Hague, is not without its critics, and countries such as the US, China and Russia have not signed up. After a screening on Tuesday night, I asked the documentary’s director Pamela Yates whether there was any evidence the existence
Undercover in Tibet, one of over 120 films at this year’s One World festival, features the testimonies of victims of Chinese repression, including a Tibetan monk who describes being tortured, a woman forced to undergo sterilisation and former nomads made to live in isolated compounds. Those interviews were secretly recorded by Tash Despa, who escaped from Tibet in his late teens and returned, on a UK passport, a decade later. Ahead of a screening of the documentary, I asked Tash Despa how much danger he had been in while filming in the tightly
The film Voices from El-Sayed, currently being shown in the One World festival, focuses on a Bedouin village in the Negev desert in Israel which has the highest concentration of deaf people in the world. Over the generations a unique sign language has evolved in El-Sayed, where deafness is so common it is not regarded as a handicap. The film’s director Oded Adomi Leshem told me why so many people in the village are deaf.
For four decades, the countries trapped behind the Iron Curtain attracted only a few travellers from the West. Our guest in this week’s edition of One on One is the American writer, scholar and photographer Ruth Ellen Gruber, whose reporting career brought her to the communist block in the 1970s. She spent time in Belgrade and Warsaw, among other places, and after the fall of communism, she stayed in Europe and became a leading scholar on eastern European Jewish heritage – and the region’s country music.
If you live in Prague, it is quite likely that you will have encountered Jaroslav Rudiš as a rock musician, performing with gloom and late ‘70s angst with Jaromír 99 and the Bombers or his own band U-Bahn. Novelist, playwright, screenplay writer and musician, Rudiš is a man of many talents, and in recent years he has acquired something of a cult following on the Czech literary scene. If you want to know a bit more about Jaroslav, a good place to start is with his Facebook or MySpace profile: there you’ll find out that he’s straight, going on 37,