International cinematographers’ festival bringing film culture to old industrial heartland of Ostrava


Though it only began last year, the International Cinematographers’ Film Festival Ostrava is fast becoming an important part of the cultural calendar in the old industrial city in the north-east of the country. With the 2010 edition due to kick off in just under a fortnight, I caught up with two of its young organisers in Prague: programme director Jakub Felcman, and Anna Kopecká, who is head of the programme department.

What was the idea behind creating the festival?

Felcman: “It was the impression that the Czech Republic merits a cinematographers’ film festival. There is a long tradition of the Czech school of cinematography, and in the early years of Czech cinema it was the most important part of filmmaking.

“It was cinematographers who actually made Czech cinema visible outside the country – in Europe, and in the world.

“Otto Heller, one of the most important cinematographers, was a DOP with Alfred Hitchcock, for instance. He made his best films abroad, but also in the Czech Republic. So this was the idea.”

Why Ostrava? Why not Prague or somewhere closer to Prague? I know you live in Prague.

Kopecká: “First of all it was the opportunity. Because we had the chance to make a project for Ostrava, to prepare an international film festival.

“It’s very close to the Polish and Slovak borders. There is a good connection to Prague, a really good connection to Vienna, to Bratislava, it’s quite close to Berlin too, so it’s a really good location.

“It has a lot of small cinemas that are still open. It’s also a really interesting area for cinematographers because it’s an old industrial city and now it’s changing. It’s going to be more modern, and I think it’s really interesting for cinematographers to go there and see films in this context.”

Felcman: “I would add that Ostrava is a city that rocks! It’s it! It’s a city you should go to if you want to find a centre that has not been discovered yet by snobs or whatever.

“It’s a city that will move forward so fast. Maybe in 10 years it will be a complete city, it will be built…people will know where they are going when they go to Ostrava, but now it’s the centre of inspiration and of culture.”

How did the first year of the festival go? And how much of a challenge was it to create a festival from nothing?

Kopecká: “It was a big challenge. It was really difficult, because we didn’t have enough time for preparation. We learnt a lot.

“Some things were not so good, and some things were exceptional, were great. We made an open-air screening of the cult Czech film Kouř in the industrial centre of Vítkovice – hundreds of people came and it was great.

“This year we will also have two screenings by Sýkorův most, Sýkora Bridge, which is known by everyone who lives in Ostrava. It’s really an important place, it’s like a symbol.

“This year we are trying to make the festival a little bit different. We have two competitions…we are trying to make it a cinematographers’ festival that is more focused on independent films.

“There are some other cinematographers’ festivals and one of them is in Poland, which I think is the most important – Camerimage. They are a festival of Hollywood films and big stars, and we’re trying to show the alternative…side.”

Apart from the outdoor screenings, what other highlights can we expect at your festival this year?

Kopecká: “The highlight that everybody is writing about is the opening gala, because we are going to screen the winner of the Cannes film festival, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives. It will again be in the industrial part of the city. We will also have another screening, because this one will be for invited guests only. Then of course it’s all the competition, the main competition – I think it’s really interesting.”

'Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives'
This year’s festival will be only the second – how would you like to see it developing into the future?

Felcman: “I would like if the festival had a certain standard, but stayed young and independent, and specific because of the city of Ostrava.

“I would like it if in five years there will be someone who comes and says, it’s me who can make it better and bring better films and who can do better promotion and who can develop the cinemas more. I’m waiting for such a person. Then I will resign and wait and see how it continues with the new blood.”