Czech film Protektor takes top prize at US film festival


The new Czech film Protektor has begun delivering on high expectations with a win at the Starz International Film Festival in Denver, Colorado. The Krzysztof Kieślowski Award for Best Feature Film was a promising start for the WWII film that the Czech Republic has already pinned its Oscar hopes on.

When Protektor was put forward by the Czech Film and Television Academy two days after it premiered at the London Film Festival, a lot of people were unsurprised even without having seen it. Considering what has worked in the past, films dealing with the Second World War and the holocaust are safe shots for Oscars. I asked the film’s producer Pavel Strnad if he saw the film as Oscar material from the beginning.

“Well that’s the question that everyone asks us, but we didn’t make the film because of its WWII topic. We made it because we thought the story was strong enough, and obviously this was a time when this type of story was a matter of life and death, and I’m happy that it’s turned out to be a great film. When you start making a film you don’t think about Oscars, you just think about making a great film.”

Protektor is the story of a married couple who find themselves on opposite sides of the conflict after the Protectorate learns that the wife, a film actress, is of Jewish descent. Meanwhile, her husband, a Czechoslovak Radio journalist, is set to become the voice of Nazi propaganda in the occupied country. The filmmakers have said that the two ideas they were most interested in working with from the outset was the assassination of Reinhard Heydrich in Prague and the plight of a radio employee. That certainly adds to its interest for Czechs –not to mention Czech Radio employees - but Pavel Strnad says that the victory in Denver was confirmation of Protektor’s strong trans-national appeal.

“Well actually, yes, I was surprised, but we had a couple of screenings and we found out that the US audience is really embracing the film. So I think it’s great that this film works abroad. It’s also quite universal for other countries and even other periods of Czech history I would say. We saw similar stories take place during communism and that was another thing we liked about the story.”

Protektor, which was directed by Marek Najbrt, has not been an astounding success in Czech cinemas though, despite its solid success among critics. Those results though can sometimes be the sign of a classic.