Fresh Film Festival opens in Prague with “defiance” as main theme


The Fresh Film Festival – highlighting work by debuting directors and student filmmakers – got underway in Prague this week, offering viewers a rare opportunity to see films they would otherwise have little chance to see. Last year “heroes” were the main theme; this year it’s “defiance”.

Magdalena Niklová, the festival’s programme director, told me more this week.

“This year’s main theme is defiance: especially because we are focused on student cinema we wanted to show students how to themselves ‘defy’ conventional filmmaking and the mainstream. We put together a thematic group of films which are special in their story, or where the filmmakers are defiant, or how the film itself it is done and produced.”

Basically projects that challenge the status quo…

“Yes exactly.”

What are some specific projects being screened that you would recommend – including the one that opened the festival?

“The film that opened the festival is called Blue Valentine. We chose this film because it was completely overlooked by Czech distribution companies and we didn’t really understand that. It’s a really nice and gentle about a married couple whose marriage is falling apart and you see both their memories, their beginnings, how things changed – the huge loss. You see the comparison between their state seven years before and now and it’s very gently done. The acting is very natural and very convincing.

“In terms of films in the thematic ‘bloc’ I would recommend the whole programme: there are some classic films and also new ones. I would especially recommend three films by Jose Padilha called Elite Squad, The Elite Squad 2 and a documentary called Bus 174. They all present the world of favelas or shanty towns in Brazil and the ‘elite’ squads that try to control the areas and fail all the time. That’s very impressive.

“Then I would recommend Yellow Sea, a Korean film that is very tense. It’s the story of a taxi driver in a part of China who needs to get to Korea to find his wife. He takes the job of killing someone in Korea and gets into big trouble with the police, the mafia and his ‘employer’. It’s very dramatic.”

Those projects do sound fascinating and not like something you’d often see…

“Absolutely. We also don’t try and present only things that are new but something that distribution or Czech festivals missed. It doesn’t even have to be exactly to our taste… but be something that is special that has been missed.”

One of the things that young or up-and-coming filmmakers are often fascinated with is ‘genre’: are there any examples at this year’s festival where filmmakers play with genre or twist genres in ways we perhaps haven’t seen before?

“Most definitely. A perfect example is called Stakeland which is a twist on the whole zombie/vampire/apocalypse theme and twists it in wonderful way you won’t see anywhere else. Another is a Belgian film called Vampire. It’s a mockumentary about a crew trying to make a film about vampires after the first few crews failed (and were eaten by the vampires). The last crew is successful and makes the film about vampires living in Belgium, their lives and problems and hierarchy and it’s a very funny film.

“We have two films which use Sci Fi as background to develop very interesting stories about relationships or love stories, called Transfer and Monster.”

To come back to main theme of defiance: I imagine that defiance was also a key element in the main images of the festival which are very striking. The campaign features images of faces basically distorted from the effects of a wind tunnel but it’s not immediately apparent what is happening. How did that come together?

“We actually approached art university students this year to come up with ideas and one studio’s students were assigned the task of coming up with the visuals – which would include the theme of resistance. And the one we chose was this. It was quite a long process and we had to work out technically how to produce the photos: things fly in tunnels so we had to sort of funnel the wind so that it would hit just the face, which basically resists the wind.”

The images are very ‘raw’ and because of the distortion to the faces I was almost shocked when I first saw the photos: for a second I almost thought it was a cadaver (or murder victim). Have you had a lot of different responses or even misinterpretations of the images?

“We haven’t had reaction from the broader public yet but people we showed it to, everybody said they thought it was about something else: say, a campaign against domestic violence and not a film festival, that’s true. But shocking images can be effective and get attention and this works and that was the intention of the artistic director.”

There are several different film festivals in the Czech republic over the summer, from Karlovy Vary – the main international festival – or the Summer Film School at Uherske hradiste. Is the audience, do you think, different for Fresh Film?

“I think it’s definitely different. We are much smaller of course but for that reason we can focus on more niche interests and tastes. Bigger festivals show many titles and offer something for everyone but we don’t try and do that. We want to address special tastes and also of course the audience for student films is different. Not everyone is interested in student cinema.”

Nevertheless, when you see student films it’s sometimes possible to gauge their future direction of some filmmakers, so even from that perspective it must be interesting to come back in later years when they have ‘made it’ and say ‘Oh, I saw their first film at Fresh Film Fest”.

“That’s actually the reason why we added a new section over the last few years about first feature second feature films: over the years we saw the students growing up and developing from their first project. Those who produce really good work often come back or keep coming back, so you can really see the development of their work.”