Febiofest gets underway featuring 200 films including Slovak-Czech production My Dog Killer

'Můj pes Killer', photo: MFF Praha - FebioFest

The Febiofest film festival, in its 20th year, began on Thursday evening; this year the festival promises 200 film screenings and the attendance of internationally-recognised stars like Geraldine Chaplin (perhaps best known for her work with Carlos Saura) and Giancarlo Giannini many fans will recognise from films like Casino Royale.

Geraldine Chaplin,  photo: MFF Praha - FebioFest
Former Olympic champion Věra Čáslavská will be presiding over the main jury; she told Czech Radio she was very excited Geraldine Chaplin would be attending this year.

“Most of us on the planet love films and I am personally looking forward very much to meeting her. I love Charlie Chaplin’s movies very much, so I am very excited. As for the jury, I am going to overlook the process to make sure no whispering is going on and that members aren’t agreeing on things amongst themselves!”

Two Czech films, one Slovak-Czech coproduction called Můj pes Killer (My Dog Killer) and the film Bez doteku, are in the main competition: Febiofest Grand Prix. Můj pes Killer is a feature film by Slovak director Mira Fornay that won one of the Hivos Tiger Awards at Rotterdam in February. It tells the story of Marek who has no real friends but only his guard dog for company, who hangs out with skinheads near the Slovak-Moravian border. A “Nazi without a cause” as he is described by the filmmakers, Marek is defined by mistakes and choices he makes. Director Mira Fornay:

“It is the story of a very young man of 17 who lives with his dad. His friends are racists and members of a boxing club he wants to belong to very much. He has a dog and it’s largely because of the animal that he is accepted by the group. The turning point is when his mum shows up, introducing new conflict in familial ties where racial prejudice comes to a head.”

The film is shot in an almost documentary style and the role of the mother was played by Irena Bendová, a non-actor, who had no previous film experience.

'Můj pes Killer',  photo: MFF Praha - FebioFest
“When I got to know the director she told me I was an interesting person, that I was very optimistic, but that she needed somebody who was rough and vulgar. I said ‘I don’t know’ but we tried it. As a director she leads actors very clearly and provokes or goads you into giving more of yourself. Just when you think you can’t take it further she pushes you to the next level.”

My Dog Killer won at Rotterdam just last month, which the director says was extremely satisfying. She adds, modestly, she was glad the film had simply been seen by the jury it had, which included names she has long admired:

“This was a great jury and I was happy that the people on it saw the film. For me that was enough! The fact that Sergei Loznitsa, Ai Weiwei and the others on the jury were able to see it was great. And when we won, it was of course wonderful for everyone who worked on the film.”

The film will go into official distribution in Czech cinemas on April 11. The other production a Czech team will have pinned high hopes on is Bez doteku, made by young – just 18-year-old – first-time director Matěj Chlupáček: keep an eye out for that.

Giancarlo Giannini,  photo: CTK
Meanwhile, programme director Štefan Uhrík described putting together a major festival like Febiofest together as highly stressful. He was also asked about changes this year, after news was released that Febiofest had been sold by its co-founder Fero Fenič who stays on as its president.

“Stressful is what it is! It’s not only about our team in Prague, which works really well, but about people all over the world who have to secure and send copies of films so the main thing is to secure 200 films for screenings with as few changes to the programme as possible!”

“Regarding Fero Fenič, I have to say that I haven’t seen any big changes in the festival itself. It could be because things are in an interim period. It could happen next year of course that the new owners come up with new ideas or new things they want that could be diametrically different. But you can always choose freely which stance to take.”

News sources reported that Mr Fenič sold Febiofest for 25 million crowns, something co-founder turned festival president has since strongly denied, saying the details of the deal were somewhat more complicated than that.

“I can tell you that the sum that was reported is not true even if it was included as an estimate in the contract. The business deal we signed was broader. That deal is not public and I am bound by a non-disclosure clause.”

Fero Fenič,  photo: CTK
The reason for selling the festival to new owners and investors reportedly had everything to do with the fact that Febio, over the last five years, was increasingly cash-strapped.

“Last year we had only one general partner and no main partner, and our budget compared to before the financial crisis was roughly half. It was a very dramatic situation in which it became apparent it would be harder and harder for me to keep Febiofest alive.”

If you want to learn more about this year’s festival this year, which shows every sign of being a success, visit Febiofest at febiofest.cz