Bohemia meets blaxploitation at the KVIFF

Black Dynamite, photo:

The Czech Republic, like any Western country, may be inundated with American cinema, but just when you think you’ve seen it all, the US shows it has some more surprises. And if you’re going to see them anywhere then it’s going to be in Karlovy Vary, where the 44th International Film Festival is taking place. This week one of those surprises was a film and a director who has breathed new life into the inimitably American film genre of blaxploitation. Christian Falvey reports from Karlovy Vary.

While festival week started out with Czech classics and the French cineastes, attention soon took a sharp turn towards a newfangled talent of the American screen. The talk of the town was one Scott Sanders – parodist extraordinaire. After stunning Sundance earlier this year he’s now turning heads in Europe too. His film, Black Dynamite, was a wholly unexpected treat, a brilliant take on American blaxploitation film that’s wowing Europeans with a genre they don’t know well, and a whole new level of ridiculousness that was not entirely lost in translation.

“It seems like there were a couple of jokes that people here didn’t get, but that’s because they were really local jokes. There’s a joke about a restaurant in Los Angeles, nobody gets that joke here or in Germany. But for the most part even jokes they don’t get there they get here, so that was interesting too. It’s been a big surprise to me that the movie has done well in festivals and now in festivals that aren’t based in English.”

And the film was not the only surprise. After midnight, the truly mild mannered Scott Sanders became DJ Suckapunch, at one of the week’s most anticipated parties. He did not disappoint.

The 1970s' Blaxploitation films were attempts at wooing black audiences by offering them a tailor-made movie-land it was hoped they would relate to. It means big guns, big cars, a ghetto milieu, pimps and dealers, and a suspicion of whites and the government. Hence, a barrage of stereotypes that were often deemed insulting in the 70s, but are so preposterous today as to be utterly hilarious. While director Quentin Tarantino gave Europe a taste of the blaxploitation experience, Sanders may be the first to find success abroad with the unadulterated recipe.

“More than blaxploitation I think the movie is about movie conventions. And that’s what blaxploitation was because they’re putting a black person in a situation and interpreting it in a way that exposes the movie’s conventions – like there’s a bullet and there’s a musical sting on the bullet, and it’s like you’re supposed to feel emotion for that; maybe that’s why people laugh. Because especially here, I think it’s a very film-savvy audience, even though they haven’t seen blaxploitation movies, they’ve seen a lot of movies. And other movies that have corny plot devices.”

Sanders seemed to absorb as much novelty as he provided in Karlovy Vary. In addition to presenting his film, DJ-ing the town’s best club and participating in the festival’s masterclass discussions, he seemed to be everywhere in town at once. It is, he says, his first trip outside North America and he says this visit to the Czech Republic won’t be his last.

“It’s been fun, it’s amazing. It’s such a huge festival. This is the fanciest festival we’ve been in, in terms of being just grand. So I want to come back here. I’m going to try to come back for the end of the movie, because this is a great country. I’m having a good time.”