Former underground Summer Film School a unique opportunity for dialogue

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The annual Summer Film School, which gets underway in the south Moravian town of Uherske Hradiste on Friday, is the most important event of its kind in the Czech Republic. Several thousand mostly young people will have a unique opportunity to not only watch films but also take part in open discussions with directors, writers and actors. Jiri Kralik is the director of the school, and though he is too young to have been involved in the school from the very beginning, he told Radio Prague a little about its history.

"The first such meeting was held in 1964. It was repeated every year, and interest grew every year too. And ten years later there were 250 people - a lot more than the 40 people who came the first year. In the 1970s and 1980s it was a really closed event, because they showed films which were banned, like Czech New Wave films or Andy Warhol - I remember seeing Andy Warhol at the cinema in 1984, which was a miracle in communist Czechoslovakia."

After the Velvet Revolution the Summer Film School began to expand considerably - without losing its unique character - and now around 3,000 people attend every year. Director Jiri Kralik insists that the event really is a school, not a film festival; what exactly is the difference?

"We don't have tickets. Everyone is accredited and people who are there for a longer time get preferential treatment. We don't have a competition and we never will. What's more we don't just have new films like festivals do. And we don't just show films - before every film we try to have a spoken introduction and afterwards we hold a discussion - not a press conference but a meeting with the viewers in the cinema itself. It's an immediate experience and an immediate reaction."

The film school is one of the biggest events of the year in Uherske Hradiste, and attracts film enthusiasts from all over the Czech Republic. What is the atmosphere like over the nine days of the Summer Film School?

"The director Jaromil Jires was there for the first time in 1994 and he said it was like Woodstock in the 60s. Young people sit on the grass, and they don't mind at all sitting on the floor or standing to watch films. The atmosphere is really open and we really try to ensure there are no barriers between viewers and guests...there isn't anything like a VIP section...everyone can go wherever they want. There's a lot of freedom in the choice of films and in the discussions afterwards."

The themes of this year's film school are mythology and opera, and the famous Czech mezzosoprano Dagmar Peckova is due to perform in the open air in Uherske Hradiste. Her manager told Radio Prague that Miss Peckova is planning to spend a few days in the town, and really soak up the atmosphere. By the way, you can find out more about the film school at ifs.uh.cz.