Biggest Czech cultural event in US goes from strength to strength

'Barefoot', photo: YouTube

An annual showcase of contemporary Czech films called Czech That Film is currently underway across the United States. The festival is the largest Czech cultural event in the country and offers both Czech expats and local film enthusiasts a unique chance to get acquainted with present-day Czech cinematography.

I spoke to Šárka Vamberová, cultural attaché at the Czech Embassy in Washington, and I first asked her to tell me more about the event, which is now in its seventh year:

“The Czech That Film festival was launched in 2012 in Los Angeles and the founding father of the festival was Michal Sedláček, at that time the Consul General of the Czech Republic in Los Angles. He felt that Czech films were missing in US cinemas.

“He founded the festival first in California and because it was really successful, it gradually spread to other cities. This year, in the seventh edition of the festival, we are having it in 19 cities, not only in the US, but also in Canada, in Toronto and Ottawa.”

So would you say that the main aim of the festival is to raise awareness of Czech cinematography in the US and Canada?

“Definitely. One of the main reasons we are organizing the festival is to showcase the best Czech contemporary films. Usually, we are screening films that won the Czech lion the year before or were nominated for an Oscar. So it’s about promotion of Czech films.

“Another reason is for the Czech community to get together, the Czech schools and the honorary consuls, who are in some cases helping to organize the event. So I would say it’s both a social and a cultural event.”

Who attends the screening? Is it mostly the Czech expats living in the United States?

“Of course the Czech community welcomes this event and they make up a big part of the audience. On the other hand, there are not many Czechs living in places such as Texas or Memphis, so these screenings are mostly for the American audiences.

The seventh edition of Czech That Film has already got underway. What was the opening film?

Jan Svěrák,  photo: Prokop Havel
“We started on April 11 in Washington with Jan Svěrák as a special guest. He came to present his most recent film, Barefoot, which was hugely successful with our viewers.”

The festival is dedicated to current Czech films but I noticed one exception on the programme and that is Jan Svěrák earlier film Accumulator from 1994. Why have you decided to include that film on the programme?

“That’s true. Jan Svěrák visited Los Angeles to present his film Accumulator, because one of the actresses from the film, Edita Brychta, actually lives there. So they were both present at the screening of the restored version of the film.

“And because we are marking 100th anniversary of Czechoslovakia’s cinema, we thought it would be nice to remember some older films. I think Jan Svěrák was really happy to present the restored version of his Accumulator in Los Angeles.”

So what other films are you showing at this year’s Czech That Film festival?

“This year we are bringing more historical drama than in the previous years. We are presenting David Mrnka’s Milada about Milada Horáková, Julius Ševčík’s Masaryk about Jan Masaryk, the son of the first Czechoslovak president, Jan Hřebejk’s Family Film, another WWII drama, and Eight Heads of Madness a wonderful film about he a Russian poet.

“Among the films set in the current times we have some dark comedies, including Miroslav Krobot’s film The Quartet and Bohdan Sláma’s Ice Mother.”

As you said, Jan Svěrák arrived in the US to present his film. Have you invited other Czech directors and will they be taking part?

“Just now we are having Jan Hřebejk, who travelled to Atlanta, Phoenix and Memphis, David Mrnka with Milada visited Texas, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, and Little Rock in Arkansas, and our last guest will be Tereza Voříšková, who will present the film Barefoot in Toronto.”

When does this year’s Czech that Film come to a close and what will be its final stop?

'Barefoot',  photo: YouTube
“We are in mid-way. We have reached the 12th city. This weekend we are heading to Portland and Pittsburgh and then to Toronto and Ottawa. In June it will be Chicago, Seattle and in July we will travel to New York. And probably the last stop will be Minneapolis.

When you compare it to its first year, how has it developed over the years?

“I would say it has changed tremendously. It started as a local Los Angeles event, and gradually expanded to California in the West Coast. Today, we have screenings even in Canada. So every year, we put a new city on the map.”