FNE at KVIFF: Slovakia Shines at Karlovy Vary

By Cathy Meils

    KARLOVY VARY: The big winner at the 46th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (www.kviff.com), which wrapped on 9 July 2011, was Slovakia. Its revived film industry produced four-award winner Gypsy (Cigan) by Martin Sulik and producer Rudolf Biermann, as well as the Audience Award winner Nicky's Family, from director Matej Minac and producer/editor Patrik Pass, underscoring Slovakia's emerging ability to produce films that are both commercially appealing and artistically exceptional.

    Minac and Pass were clearly reveling in the award, in a highly competitive year with over 70,000 votes cast. It was a notable end to a trilogy of films about Sir Nicholas Winton, the man who rescued some 600 Jewish children from Czechoslovakia in the months leading up to World War II.

    But it was a remarkable comeback to Karlovy Vary for Sulik, who shared the Special Prize of the Jury and a $20,000 cash award with Biermann. The pair won the same prize with Sulik's 1995 film The Garden (Zahrada), which was also co-written by Gypsy scriptwriter Marek Lescak. Gypsy is Sulik's first feature film in six years (he produced a 26-part documentary series on Czech New Wave directors during that period), and the film once again was a seamless blend of the poetic mystery and clear-eyed realism - Sulik at his best.

    The film took home the FICC Don Quixote Prize, the Europa Cinemas Label Award, and a special mention for the young Roma (gypsy) teenager, Jan Mizigar, whose quiet and magnetic presence holds the film together.

    Sulik and Lescak spent months traveling throughout Eastern Slovakia and gathering stories within the Roma villages, incorporating them into a story inspired by Sulik's re-reading of Hamlet. The result is a film whose authenticity transcends previous fiction films on the Roma life. Sulik has spoken openly about the need for the public to be made more aware of the Roma and their social problems, and the film succeeds in that. As Czech film historian and professor Milica Pechankova told FNE, "It is the right film for the right time."

    Aside from the two winning films, Slovakia was also represented by a film in the East of the West competition, Visible World by Peter Kristufek, and a film in the EFP/Variety/HBO section, The House by Zuzanna Liova. Slovakia was also represented on the Main Jury by director Vladimir Balko, whose 2009 film Soul at Peace screened in the main competition that year, before going on to become a box office success in Slovakia.