FNE VISEGRAD FORUM: FNE Interview with Martin Smatlak


    FNE spoke with Martin Šmatlák, the first director of the new Slovak Audiovisual Fund (http://www.culture.gov.sk/sekcie/audiovizualny-fond2), about the current state of the Slovak film industry.

    FNE: What was the most important development in Slovak film industry over the past year?

    {mosimage} Martin Šmatlák: The main change is the creation of the Audiovisual Fund on 1 January 2009, after 18 years of different proposals, mainly due to the personal initiative of Culture Minister Marek Maďarič and several other representatives from the audiovisual field.

    Under the new law the Audiovisual Fund will decide on the support of the audiovisual culture and industry public funding sources.

    It has also created conditions to extend the funding, and it laid the foundations for more efficient and flexible way to promote the film culture and industry. This has been a year of preparation with the Fund due to start its activity as of the beginning of 2010. The fund will support the development, production and distribution of audiovisual works for cinemas, televisions and new forms of distribution, as well as educational films, festivals and other events, such as educational, editorial and research activities and also technology development. Technology development is in the first year is focused on the modernization of cinemas.

    I am pleased with the success of Slovak films at festivals and events abroad, in particular with documentaries. Creativity is already underway and the conditions for its continued development should improve, not only financially but also technologically.

    FNE: How important are European co-productions for the development of the Slovak film industry and what opportunities do you see for cooperation with neighboring countries in film production, education and distribution?

    MS: Slovak cinematography could not have survived during the last 15 years without European coproductions, especially film productions for cinema. Naturally most coproductions are with the Czech Republic, which is historically, culturally and linguistically nearest. European coproductions accounted in recent years for 75% of all Slovak full-length feature films.

    The Czech Republic also has a functioning infrastructure and technologies for film production. The weakest point of the film environment in Slovakia is the decline in the technology level and in infrastructure for the film production over the past 20 years. There are no film laboratories here, the camera and lighting equipment supply for 35mm films is rather limited, and there is not a single studio for modern digital audio production. The development of cinema and its digitization is also lagging behind. Without that, big films cannot be produced in Slovakia and foreign producers do not come here. We still participate in coproductions, but we would like to play the role of an active and equal partner.

    FNE: What is the role of film in Slovak cultural identity?

    MS: Slovak film became a fully-valued part of the country's cultural context only since the beginning of the 1960's. Slovak film grew to achieve an equal position with other forms of art and with Czech film during the "new wave". This was when increased public interest in Slovak film became a means of expressing cultural identity.

    After November 1989, the continuity of Slovak film was interrupted and was in crisis. This was also reflected in the relationship of the Slovak audience to Slovak film. The average annual share of Slovak films in cinemas by total attendance fell below 5%. In 2006 it fell below one percent.

    Over the last two years, this negative trend reversed significantly and more Slovak viewers are attending Slovak films. It is important to maintain this tread because film and audiovisual production is a natural and spontaneous expression of what we might call the cultural identity.

    In terms of preserving and developing cultural identity through film it is also important to ensure the systematic protection of the film heritage and make it available through new technologies. In 2006 the Slovak government approved a long-term project for the systematic protection of the audiovisual heritage, through the maintenance and restoration of the film heritage and its accessibility.

    FNE: How does the recognition of Slovak film internationally promote not only your country's film but also Slovakia as a country?

    MS: Film is an effective tool for the international presentation of culture and country. The creative potential of Slovak film is undeniable; but how it is presented is important. We can not just rely on the fact that someone will "discover" us; on the contrary, we must be capable of presenting and promoting ourselves.

    The Slovak Film Institute, the Slovak Audiovisual Producers Association, and the Slovak Film and Television Academy do a lot in this direction. It is necessary to combine these efforts and to focus on continual and professional "film promotion" as an instrument for presenting films, producers, producer organizations and the country as a whole.

    FNE: Looking back over the past five years what are the major achievements and what do you consider still needs to be done?

    MS: On the positive side: ensuring the legislative framework and financial resources for the support of the audiovisual sector, stopping the frightening decline of film production, the increase in audiovisual production, especially in television, the international success of Slovak films, increasing the number of viewers of Slovak films, the protection of audiovisual heritage.

    On the opposite side: development of technology, raising funds for audiovisual and film production, better professional training for audiovisual professionals, modernization and digitalization of cinemas, international marketing and promotion of Slovak films, the development of audiovisual education at schools and long-term and systematic activity that will lead to strengthening the positive image and awareness of Slovak film and its historical and cultural value.

    Doc. PhDr. Martin Šmatlák (1961) graduated from the Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts in Bratislava. Throughout his professional career he has been active in the Slovak audiovisual industry as: the general manager of the Slovak Film Institute; pedagogue at VSMU - Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts; vice-rector and vice-dean for Film and TV at VSMU; strategic director and member of crisis management at Slovak Television; general director of media and audiovisual at the Ministry of Culture of the Slovak Republic; and member of the working group for the law on the Audiovisual Fund that went into the effect as of January 1, 2009.
    He is one of the establishing members of the Slovak Film and Television Academy and a founding members of the first film festival in Bratislava after 1989.