Helena Trestikova: an admired Czech director accepts a European crown

By Irena Zemanova
    On December 6, Czech documentarist Helena Trestikova received the "European Oscar" in Copenhagen, the European Film Academy's Prix Arte.

    Trestikova was awarded for her latest film, Rene, the culmination of a life study that was filmed over a 20 year period.

    Along with Marcela, her previous documentary which was honoured last year at Seville film festival, René is widely succesful around Europe. It already received such awards as the Golden Dove at the Leipzig DOK festival. After the film's world premiers at this year´s Karlovy Vary Film Festival, it began receiving invitations to festivals worldwide, but the EFA's Prix Arte really turned Trestikova into this year's star documentary filmmaker.

    Born in the centre of Prague, Trestikova (age 59) originally wanted to be a costume designer and artist. However, in the tumultuous era of 1968, she made the life-altering decision to become a filmmaker, despite the concerns of her artistically minded family.

    After studies at FAMU film academy, she began working with Czechoslovak television in early 1970´s. After her architect husband took on the job of producing her films, Trestikova turned to the exacting and demanding method of time collection documentary making.

    In 1980 she embarked on an extensive project, combining sociology, demography and documentary, in a film cycle called Marital Scales, in which she followed at six married couples and their family life between 1980 and 1987. The documentary series was a smash hit for Czechoslovak television in 1987 and made Trestikova one of the most popular documentary directors in the country.

    She had continued success with the genre of time collection documentary genre, and had another break-through with her full-length portrait of a former bride from 1980 series, Marcela Haverlandova, who had divorced and given birth to a retarded son and whose 20-years old daughter was killed. Produced by Negativ production company (www.negativ.cz) under lead producer Pavel Strnad, Marcela received a CZK 1.7 million grant.

    René opened in cinemas one year later. In the film, Trestikova follows twenty years in the life of René Plasil, habitual criminal, who was sent to prison for the first time at the age on only 16 and as a constant backslider, never lived a proper life. A mission came with a job hazard: Rene even robbed the filmmakers.

    Trestikova continues to follow both Marcela and René and is adding a third part of to her trilogy: the story of Katka, a young drug addicted prostitute. Katka is produced by Negativ, and received a CZK 1 million grant from the Czech State Fund for Support and Development of Czech Cinematography. Katka will be released in summer 2009.