Important New York culture centre plays host to festival of new Czech cinema

Czech center in New York

The Czech Republic paid a memorable visit to a highly regarded culture venue in Brooklyn, New York, recently, when the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Cinematheque played host to the 'New Czech Films' festival. Leading representatives of Czech cinema such as director Jiri Menzel and actress Klara Issova came to Brooklyn for the event, which has now been running for eight years.

Before we meet the stars of the festival, let’s hear from one of the organisers:

“My name is Irena Kovarova, I am the co-curator and co-producer of the series; I founded it together with Florence Almozini eight years ago and I've been co-curating it ever since.”

Jiri Menzel,  photo: CTK
This year’s New Czech Films was the largest in the festival’s eight-year history and included eight movies. It opened to a full house with Jiri Menzel's 'I Served the King of England', and the presence of the director himself made the first night all the more special.

"I think it was a fabulous evening. As Mr. Menzel said at the beginning, there's nothing better than for a filmmaker to see a full house, and it's the same thing for curators and producers. When you have a full house, everything goes well. I actually heard that the reception was even better than at the Czech premiere. And obviously the discussion was very interesting, so, I'm very happy."

Florence Almozini is BAM Cinematheque’s film curator. She works with Ms. Kovarova to carefully select the films that will play to both a Czech and American audience in New York. That involves travelling to festivals in the Czech Republic to view the latest and most important local releases.

“It's great. You see it in festival, with industry people, or with a Czech audience, and you're like, oh, this one is really great, or this one could work so well for us; people will be so excited to see that. So that's how we do the selection. It's a really fun process.”

“Czech Dream“
“There's a lot of production, and a lot of films made every year, that don't usually come to the U.S., a few films would get distribution, I know [Jan Hrebejk] got a few films distributed; there was Czech Dream that was distributed this year for Czech documentary, but it's rare, so it was very exciting for us to be able to bring new films to an American audience, and also the Czech audience living here, so that's why we continue doing it and we get a great audience. It's really interesting.”

Audiences had a chance to sample more than just movies. In two instances, they had the opportunity to speak directly with some of the film makers and actors themselves, among them Klara Issova, who appeared in two of the films on the program at the 2007 New Czech Film festival. Florence Almozini has lots of praise for the young Czech star.

Klara Issova in “Grandhotel“
“She's a very great and talented actress. I saw her in three films back to back when I was in Karlovy Vary: In 'Rules of Lies,' 'Grand Hotel,' and the new Hrebek film called 'Teddy Bear.' She has a really amazing range - she's a very beautiful girl. She looks very unassuming, and she can play very beautiful, or very plain - in the background. She's lovely, and she was a Shooting Star in Berlin, which brings new actors and actresses to the front line; so I think she has a great career ahead of her.”

Ms. Issova, at just 28 years of age, has already appeared in 30 films. After the screening of one of her pictures in New York, she spoke a little about the relationship between the Czech filmmakers of the 60s and 70s, such as Jiri Menzel, and today's generation of young filmmakers:

"It was a very, very strong generation of filmmakers, and somehow they inspire the young generation of filmmakers that work now, and everybody can see that and feel that."

David Ondricek
The Czech film festival in Brooklyn screened David Ondricek's latest film 'Grand Hotel' in which Ms. Issova plays a young chambermaid who charms the main character, a hotel maintenance man and amateur meteorologist. The story takes place in the northern Bohemian town of Liberec and its dramatic surroundings.

"[The location] is perfect for the film. We heard about this city that the weather changes there every five minutes in this area. It was very funny for us. Then we came there, we were shooting this movie there for three months, and really, it happens that every five minutes there was rain, and then there was sun, and it was quite difficult for the camera man, to handle the situation, but on the end they took it for the story, and the story became the movie, and in the opposite way, so it was really beautiful for me.”

I asked Ms. Issova if she though contemporary Czech films accurately captured Czech culture:

“Definitely, I must say yes, definitely. You could see that there were different stories from young generation and older generation. This is all what we live in Czech Republic. There's lots of differences, you know, the story of Jiri Menzel and his movie, and the story of David Ondricek, was different, 'The Grand Hotel' - He is from young generation, and young generation mostly talk about the feelings, relationships, about the problems of young people, about the problems of people in their 30s.”

“I Served the King of England“
Jiri Menzel, who won an Oscar in 1967 for Closely Observed Trains, was happy to field questions from the New York audience after the screening of his latest picture, I Served the King of England. After the Q and A, the director said it appeared to have international appeal.

"Based on the reactions during the film, it seemed that both Americans and Czechs had a good response to it. I don't think this film is so purely or distinctly Czech actually."

And how did he enjoy screening his latest film in Brooklyn?

"It's wonderful. As a little boy, I didn't think, first, that I would ever make my own films, much less that I would show it in a place like Brooklyn."