Days of European Film festival in Prague celebrates its 20th anniversary

‘The Man Who Laughs’, photo: Official website of the festival

The Prague-based Days of European Film Festival is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year. In addition the usual program of thought-provoking films from all over Europe, the organizers have introduced a new section of the festival and will hold special events in Prague to celebrate. The festival is starting this week, so for today’s In Focus Radio Prague caught up with the program coordinator, Zdeněk Blaha, and asked him about the highlights planned for this anniversary year of the festival:

‘The Man Who Laughs’, photo: Official website of the festival
“We were thinking for a while about what to do – since it is 20 years, and that means something. We decided to have a look back a bit and also there will be a few events linked with the 20th anniversary. The main event is a special film happening, which will take place on the 20th of April, appropriately. It will take place in the Lucerna cinema, where we prepared a screening of two films – ‘The Man Who Laughs’ and ‘Fuck for Forest’.

“And there is also going to be a special film flea market, where visitors will be able to buy various things connected with film. There will be a poster exhibition, presenting the festival posters from all of the past 20 years. Also, there will be an animation workshop and costumes from the film ‘The Man Who Laughs’, since it was partly shot at the Barrandov studios in Prague. Visitors will be able to try on the costumes, take pictures in them, look at the props from the film and so on.”

Could you give us a brief rundown of the most interesting films on this year’s program?

“We will continue with the sections that we introduced in the past years, and this year we will introduce the section EuroDocs, which will present documentary films that are appropriate for the big screen. These are unique films, which are very creative and author-driven.

Zdeněk Bláha, photo: archive of Zdeněk Bláha
“And we also prepared again the section To the Point in cooperation with the European Commission in Prague. This section is always connected to the topic of the European Year, and 2013 is the European Year of Citizenship. So it looks at what it means to be a European citizen and other issues connected with this topic.

“One of the films is ‘Louise Wimmer’ by Cyril Mennegun, a French film, which focuses on the topic of poverty – how easily a person can slip from a comfortable life to total poverty. Another topic is minorities and tolerance, and the film in the section for this topic is called ‘The Gypsy Vote’ about a Roma street worker which runs in the local town council elections.

“There is also a film called ‘Mamma Illegal’, which focuses on illegal immigration and work migration in Europe. And another film is called ‘The New World’ about young activists in Estonia who want to build a community center in Tallin in order to change the environment they live in.”

This festival looks at films from all over Europe, but what are some of the Czech films that will appear this year?

“We thought about whether we should have any Czech premiers at the festival, but in the end we chose to show ‘My Dog Killer’ by Mira Fornay that was awarded at the Rotterdam Film Festival and it is a Czech-Slovak co-production. We will screen it on April 11, the same day that it goes into distribution [in the Czech Republic].”

‘The Gypsy Vote’, photo: Official website of the festival
I noticed that in addition to a lot of northern European films, this year’s program also features quite a few films about the Roma and connected with racism and in general questions of race in Central Europe. Was this planned this way or is it that filmmakers today are becoming more interested in this topic?

“It’s a coincidence that there are many of these films in the program, but I think in general the question of Roma and coexistence is quite big in Europe, and especially in Hungary. We have a film ‘Just a Wind’ by Benedek Fliegauf, for example. In Hungary it is a very hot topic and there is lots of racially motivated crime.

“Another film, which is from Slovakia, ‘The Gypsy Vote’ looks at the problem from another angle – how the [Roma] community is trying to present itself, how it is trying to achieve something, which shows that it is also very important to see that there is a will to also change things from the other side, that it is not a one-sided effort. In general, this is a very strong topic in Europe and in this country as well, and I think there will be more films made on this topic.”

The festival is in its 20th year, so obviously it is quite an established event. But in those 20 years, more and more film festivals have been founded in Prague and around the country. How do you distinguish yourself from the other festivals? What helps you attract your audience?

‘Mamma Illegal’, photo: Official website of the festival
“We focus on both feature and some documentary films from Europe. There are now festivals in Prague that are dedicated to cinematography from specific countries – like La Película [for Spanish-language films] and Das Filmfest [for German-language films] – but we are trying to cover the missing gaps, like the cinema of the Baltic states, or Scandinavian, Portugese film and others. So our ‘special something’ is that we trying to cover the whole of Europe and offer a deep insight into contemporary European cinema.

“And I think a big advantage of our festival is that we always have around 40 or 45 films in the program, so thanks to that we can afford to screen the film more times and show them in smaller places. And the films have a bigger potential to find its audience, as opposed to big festivals like Karlovy Vary, where these films may be screened as well, but it is sometimes hard to find what you are looking for, when there is such a wide offer. So I think that’s an advantage of small-sized festivals – each film gets more visibility.”

You’ve already mentioned a lot of interesting films, but could you point out some of your personal favorites?

“I was really impressed by the Swiss film ‘Sister’ by Ursula Meier, which is made in a very Dardennesque style as a social realist drama. It is about a small boy who is basically a professional thief who steals skis and other equipment in a ski resort and sells them to get money for him and his sister who is older and unemployed. So he is basically the head of the family. And there is a very interesting twist in the middle of the film, which totally changes the point of view. It is definitely worth seeing.

“And another is a very interesting document is ‘Fuck for Forest’ about a group of eco-activists who decided to raise money to save the rainforest by making porn. It is an interesting idea, but the film is not chasing this sensation, but it is good because it shows how this idea meets reality and the clash between them is caught in the film in a very interesting way.”

‘Fuck for Forest’, photo: Official website of the festival
You have been with the festival for four years. How would you say it has changed during that time?

“I think we started to present the program more focused on topic sections. That’s why introduced the sections like National League for films that were nominated by each European country for the Foreign Film Oscars; or the To the Point section that we spoke about, as well as Film and Music and EuroDocs. So we decided to make a program around these sections and not to do a random program. And I think that the audience has also gotten used to this and looks for films based on the sections. For example the musical films section is very popular, so we will see how the documentary section does this year.”

The Days of European Films festival will run in Prague from 11th to 18th of April and in Brno in the following week. You can find more information at www.eurofilmfest.cz/en