As Bratislava hosts film festival, questions asked about why Slovakia cannot produce domestic hit films

Bratislava has been hosting its own international film festival since 1999. This year the festival has a new section entitled National Hits, which is proving controversial because the film industry in Slovakia - unlike in other European countries - has so far had little success in producing domestic hit movies. Radio Slovakia International's Martina Grenova reports.

The Bratislava International Film Festival presents films in 11 sections. The main selection of pictures is done for the competition of first and second feature films by new debut directors. Last year's winning picture "Or" - a rather realistic story about a prostitute and her daughter - was directed by Israeli director Keren Yedaya. Is it the intention of the festival management to present disturbing pictures which do not follow a straight narrative line? Programming director of the festival Peter Nagel says:

"We have to stress that festivals, including the Bratislava one, intend to represent the alternative to the classic mainstream cinema. On the other hand, the majority of the films which have won our festival were very popular with audiences. But this is not important. The important thing is to impress a Slovak distributor to such an extent that they would be played across Slovak cinemas. Then the films would be watched by much bigger audiences."

The novelty of this year's edition is the National Hits section. The programming director of the festival Peter Nagel hopes that this selection will stir up some heated discussions.

"I am also hoping for high attendances because the only condition for selecting films for this section was their domestic commercial success. We decided to avoid American production blockbusters and focus on 13 European hits."

'My Nikifor'
Well, none of them has been a hit on Slovakia's domestic film market. In fact, over the past year only one Slovak feature film has been distributed in this country. What's more, attendance at the few homegrown feature films screened over the past decade has reached negligible numbers. Although shot in international co-productions, pictures like Quarteto, Faithless Games, Two Syllables Behind or The City of the Sun do not seem to appeal much to Slovak cinema goers.

According to statistics released by London's Audiovisual Observatory in 2003, Slovakia is at the bottom of the table of European countries in terms of the amount of investment in film production. Insufficient state support, lack of co-production input from public TV and a small market might be to blame for the lack of national hits in Slovak cinemas. The tendency to underestimate the quality of local filmmakers and dependence on American blockbusters block the commercial success of home made products too.

That is why the Bratislava festival is presenting hits from France, Germany, Ireland, Romania, Finland, Denmark and the UK apart from other countries. Moreover, the European hit pictures presented at the festival have been accepted not only by their own domestic audiences, but also by national and international experts.

One example is example the Polish film "My Nikifor", the winner of the Karlovy Vary festival in the Czech Republic. We will also screen the film version of the bestselling book by Imre Kertesz Fateless which has so far had been watched by half a million cinema-goers.

Apart from that Polish hit, the Hungarian animated picture entitled "District" will be presented to the Slovak audiences as well. It has already been screened at several international festivals and has been dubbed the European Southpark. And on the subject of hits that draw the attention of the public as well as experts, the festival is proud to show the Czech film Stesti or "Happiness" which has only recently won the grand prix at the San Sebastian "A" category festival.