Days of European Film closes 16th annual festival

Thursday marked the end of an eight-day international film festival in Prague that will now be making its way around the country. The Days of European Film, now in its 16th year, presented more than 50 feature, documentary and short films from across the continent.

There is no shortage of film festivals in the Czech Republic, from the distinguished Karlovy Vary festival to local exhibitions of experimental film. Not so many of them however have been around as long as the Days of European Film, which began in 1993. I visited Ms. Jana Gabrielová, one of the festival’s organisers, to ask what’s given the festival its longevity.

“We offer spectators a chance to see not only current works from countries whose cinematography is already famous here, but also from those European countries whose films are not well known to regular Czech cinemagoers. It is always important to have a choice, and we offer an alternative to American blockbusters and prove that European films can find their audiences.”

Memories of a Border Guard-Dog
Among the highlights of this year’s festival was the attendance of Czech-French director Karel Prokop and his 1998 documentary Memories of a Border Guard-Dog, which was screened as part of a special section marking the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Iron Curtain. Mr Prokop left Czechoslovakia in the 1960s after spending 6 months in prison under suspicion of treason, espionage and subversion. His one thought turned to escaping to France, where he later made a successful career as a filmmaker. Memories of a Border Guard-Dog follows the life of a sentry on the Czechoslovak border from after WWII through to the fall of the Berlin Wall and realisation that his life was spent guarding a thing that no longer even exists.

“After the collapse of communism I was able to come back and by chance I got the opportunity to see what was at the time classified film material about the Iron Curtain from the Czech border. And I said to myself it was fantastic material for a documentary. Because people, particularly in the West, really had no idea what the Iron Curtain actually looked like. Everyone knew the Berlin Wall, but few could imagine that an impenetrable enclosure actually divided Europe from the Baltic Sea to the Adriatic. So I’m very happy that this festival gives my film the opportunity to be rediscovered by Czech audiences and particularly young audiences who can’t imagine anything like that.”

There was indeed no lack of diversity at the festival, which in addition to spanning cinema from Ireland to Turkey, also hosted screenwriting seminars, a revue of pulp film art called Cabaret Caligula and a short films section screening the work of Czech students. If you missed the festival or want to catch more of it, the Days of European Film will be going on to Brno and Olomouc in Moravia, where it will be running until the end of the month.