Czech docs in the spotlight

By Cathy Meils in Jihlava
    With the Czech film Rene the recently announced winner of the European Film Academy's best documentary award, documentaries from the Czech Republic are suddenly in the spotlight.

    The additional nomination of Citizen Havel begun by Pavel Koutecky and completed by Miroslav Janek after Koutecky's untimely death, has brought international prestige to the local industry. The Rene win surprised even the producers, who had (like most Czechs) assumed that the documentary featuring the iconic Czech former playwright/dissident/president and now elder international statesman Vaclav Havel had a real shot at the prize. Instead, recognition went to Helena Trestikova's 18 year long study of a petty criminal whose life and multiple imprisonments unspooled against the political shifts in Czech history. Negativ producer Pavel Strnad noted, "I was just applying to film school when Helena was starting to shoot the film." Local audiences are turning out to see documentary films in cinemas. With only five prints, Rene, which is still in release, has attracted a respectable 5,000 viewers.

    The Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival puts a decidedly national stamp on the film selections with a third competition section (along with the world competition and the Central/East European competion), "Czech Joy," consisting this year of 14 short and feature-length documentary films.

    While Rene captured the audience prize, and the attention of buyers attending Jihlava for the East Silver film market, a new Czech film, Vit Janacek's Ivetka and the Mountains, a Negativ film production making its world premiere in Jihlava, was garnering festival buzz. In this case, the buzz proved accurate; Ivetka and the Mountain, which examines the tale of two girls who had a mystical experience, won the Czech Joy prize for the best Czech film. A special mention went to Redemption Attempt of a TV Repairman Josef Lavocka in Nine Scenes, the story of a village alcoholic and his religious life directed by Lukes Koke, which also had its world premiere in Jihlava.

    Along with Rene and Ivetka and the Mountain, other titles driving interest in Czech documentaries were RAPublic, a look at the Czech hip-hop scene by Pavel Abraham, and Gyumri, a study of the after effects of the 1988 Armenian earthquake by Jana Svecikova.