Love sharing my passion for cinema. Tastes tend toward mainstream with an occasional dabble in arthouse and classics. Follow me on Twitter @melbmovieguy.
Explore the world of Czech & Slovak cinema
What is the first thing which springs to mind when you think of Czechoslovakian (or from 1993, when the country split peacefully, Czech Republic and Slovakia) films?
Well, ... urrm... aaahh....
Actually, nothing springs to mind! I cannot recall having seen a Czech or Slovak film in the art-house cinemas, nor during late night SBS channel flicking! Similarly, no actor, director, producer or writer from the former Czechoslovakia who has made the leap from their local industry to the English language mainstream (i.e. Hollywood) springs to mind which is, I imagine, the most common way a consumer of mainstream films would ever become aware of an artist from a non-English speaking background.
Fortunately for Melbourne's cinema going public, a small, dedicated group of Czech and Slovak film connoisseurs have worked tirelessly to create the inaugural Czech and Slovak Film Festival, with a fine selection of features and short films. Spanning from 1948 to 2012, there is a mix of live action and animation, across many genres and something to suit every taste and age group.
Perusing the festival guide, you'll notice that many of the films on presentation are by director Jiri Trnka, which is why it is so fitting that The Boite, with support from the Consulate of the Czech Republic, have teamed up with CaSFFA to present an exhibition on Trnka. Entitled 'Serving Imagination', it showcases the life and artistic work of the man once hailed as the "Disney of the East" (he was also producing films in the animated form in the early twentieth century, around the same time as the famed Western animator).
Scene from 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' directed by Jiri Trnka
However, Trnka's artistic contribution does not end with animated films. The exhibition gives the impression that the man was insanely talented: puppet maker, puppetry theatre director, author, illustrator (Hans Christian Andersen Award-winner), graphic and poster designer, painter, and sculptor.
Located at Gallery Domov, 511 Queensberry Street North Melbourne and running from 18 May to 9 June (open Thursday- Sunday, 12- 4pm), the exhibition space has around 20 boards on the walls, in chronological order, which feature text detailing information on a particular aspect of Trnka's work, together with two or three images with examples. I'd recommend you allow enough time (45 minutes- an hour) to wander through the gallery and read the text as well as enjoy the images; Trnka's life and works are fascinating!
Poster for Jiri Trnka- Serving Imagination exhibition
Coupled with the exhibition, The Boite, in conjunction with The Melbourne Cinematheque and CaSFFA, are presenting several of Trnka's films at The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) at Federation Square on Saturday the 25th May from 12.30pm, and Wednesday 5th June from 7pm. Of the films on offer at these two sessions, the short films Cybernetic Grandma and The Hand look like they will be particular highlights.
Another interesting feature of the festival is a free session in the afternoon of Sunday May 26 (2 - 5.30pm), where the big screen at Federation Square will be put to good use to present a selection of short films. Come rain, hail or shine (though let's hope for shine- current forecast is for isolated showers with temperatures from 11 to 17 degrees, so bring your umbrella and a warm jacket) this session of the festival promises to be a relaxed, family friendly afternoon, not to mention a good introduction for the Czech and Slovak film novice. Details of titles to be screened will be available closed to the day on the festival website. Think of it as a Whitman's Chocolate Sampler box for your eyes!
The festival proper commences with the opening night gala on Thursday the 6th of June. The gala will kick off at 6pm, with drinks and nibbles at the RMIT Capitol Theatre, with the opening night film In the Shadow to commence at 7pm. Set in gloomy Prague of the 1950's, drawing on the film noir tradition, In the Shadow details the investigation of a Captain in the Communist police force into a robbery at a goldsmith's shop. However, he uncovers evidence that indicates the case is not as routine as first thought; and why is State Security taking an interest in such a mundane case? Definitely jump onto the festival website to pre-purchase your tickets, as recipient of nine Czech Lions Awards is bound to be popular.
From the gala opening to the closing night party, the festival is held at the RMIT Capitol Theatre (113 Swanston Street, opposite the Melbourne Town Hall), and runs from Thursday 6 June to Sunday 9 June. Although there are too many films to mention individually here (check out the full programme at the festival website), the films presented show that although Czechoslovakia dissolved 20 years ago, a spirit of collaboration still exists within the film industries of the two countries, and indeed, many of the countries of the region.
I have picked out several films which sound interesting, from Private Universe, a documentary chronicling 37 years in the life of a Czech family, to The Blue Tiger, a children's film mixing live action with animation, and showing how a child's wish in the form of a blue tiger, may be able to save a run-down Prague neighbourhood from redevelopment at the hands of a corrupt mayor. The comedy Identity Card, set in the 70's, follows the lives of four boys from the age of 15, when they receive their state identity card, to 18, when the threat of military service over-shadows their lives.
Weekendnotes writer Aaron McDonald reviewing the festival program at CaSFFA program launch
I encourage you to check out the program, select the films which sound most interesting to you, and use the CaSFFA as an opportunity to enjoy films rarely available to us here in Melbourne, yet are by all accounts, a real treat to experience!