MOFFOM festival returns to Prague with a bang

Photo: Bjorn Steinz, Natalia Vasquez,

In the Arts this week we look at Prague's annual Music on Film - Film on Music festival or MOFFOM as it's known, which was held for the third time last week. This year's festival was bigger and better than ever, and brought dozens of films about music to the Czech capital. These ranged from classic full-length features like Julien Temple's The Great Rock 'n'Roll Swindle starring The Sex Pistols to documentaries, experimental movies and promotional videos.

In keeping with previous festivals, this year's MOFFOM focused on all kinds of world music. Some of the event's highlights included musical films from Africa and movies that took a topical look at Islamic music, including documentaries about Afghan traditional musician Homayun Sakhi and the mystic muslim sect of Sufism whose adherents are known as " the whirling dervishes".

Typically, many of these films come from the developing world and feature music from embattled countries like Afghanistan and Palestine. According to Programming Director Keith Jones, MOFFOM helps present another side to life in places that are often portrayed in the worst possible terms by most media outlets:

"Because we are programming music films it's a different way of programming music from the developing world and from those countries, which are not only about strife and war but about human creation and sort of positive and uplifting human stories. We have films from parts of the world that are perhaps ridden with different conflicts, but which show a different side or a different element to the human stories"

This policy on the part of the festival organisers is perhaps best illustrated by one of MOFFOM's highlights this year: Sierra Leone's Refugee All-Stars, an inspiring film about physically crippled refugees fleeing from that country's devastating civil war, who overcome tremendous hardship to find hope and redemption in music: Keith Jones again:

"The Refugee All-Stars film is a perfect example of what I'm talking about. These people are physically handicapped and psychologically damaged as a result of living through really horrific things, but their response to it was to form an Afro-Reggae band and to communicate a positive message about overcoming and striving to get by and create a better place for yourself in the world. It's a very moving film and I'm very happy that we're able to show it."

Other highlights of this year's festival included a special section devoted to Mozart to mark the 250th anniversary of the composer's birth and a number of events linked to Prague's Year of Jewish Culture, which included a concert by Jewish artist Socalled, who proffers a stunningly original mix of traditional klezmer music and hip-hop.

Socalled's concert was commissioned for a presentation of the classic silent film Der Golem. Keith Jones says that the screening of silent films with live music is a new departure for MOFFOM, which is indicative of the festival's growing ambitions:

"One of the things we're doing this year that is different from the past is to present these combined projections with concerts - to have events that have both live music and a film screening as part of the evening. We're doing that every night of the festival throughout the week. It really is one of the highlights of the event."

In addition to MOFFOM's traditional venues comprising Prague's venerable Lucerna and Svetozor cinemas, this year's event had three new screening locations to accommodate the increasing scope of the festival. As festival founder and director John Caulkins explains, these new places included an historical Prague landmark:

"We have three new venues - the Kino Evald cinema, the City Library of Prague and the Spanish Synagogue. The latter venue is a special new project. It's a great opportunity for people who have never seen this historical landmark to come and experience films with Jewish musical themes in the Spanish Synagogue."

Der Golem
One of the most popular events with a Jewish theme shown at the Spanish Synagogue was British filmmaker Simon Broughton's documentary on music that was performed and written in the Terezin concentration camp.

Broughton himself was a guest at the festival and he was on hand to present a number of his acclaimed music documentaries and to answer questions from audience members after each screening. He says he relished the opportunity that MOFFOM gave him to interact with other music aficionados.

"I must say it's a terribly exciting experience for me to sit in a cinema watching a film with an audience and then responding to their questions and things afterwards. And also at a festival like MOFFOM there are lots of creative, interesting filmmakers and people interested in film or connected with film in some way. The range of films here is also fantastic. I've really enjoyed going to see other films and talking to the people who've made them - you know sharing the problems and the challenges with other people who are working in the same sort of business."

Another eminent guest at the festival was pioneering music-video director Julien Temple. Besides screenings of his early films The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle and Absolute Beginners, he was also in Prague to present his new film Glastonbury, an eagerly awaited documentary on the famous UK rock festival of the same name.

With its emphasis on bringing music and film together, Temple says MOFFOM was the ideal forum for showcasing his work:

"The best way of showing any film is in front of an audience. I think there is something great about mating music and film as an event. I think they work very well together and [the festival] is a great idea. I think you look at things differently when they are specifically brought together for an event like this. You see them in a more concentrated way. So I think it's a good idea all round"

Besides showing nearly 100 music films in four days, MOFFOM also had a huge accompanying programme, which included concerts by international musicians who were brought to Prague especially for the festival.

There was also a world premiere of a new DVD featuring rare archive clips of legendary Czech underground band The Plastic People of the Universe and, for the first time, MOFFOM even had two photographic exhibitions featuring pictures of musicians from Mississippi (by renowned musicologist William Ferris) and Ireland (by Irish musician Noel O'Brien).

All in all, the sheer scale and scope of MOFFOM this year was quite remarkable for a festival that is only three years old. There was also a massive leap in the number of people attending the event, which seems to indicate that MOFFOM is now firmly established in Prague's cultural calendar. Keith Jones is hopeful that the festival can continue to evolve rapidly whilst also ensuring that it maintains its original goal of introducing Prague audiences to the best music films that the world has to offer:

"I think it's really amazing how much the festival has grown in just three years. Comparing the festival now to how it looked in its first year, it's really had remarkable growth. I think it doesn't necessarily need to expand or get bigger in future years but I would like to see the type of programming that we've been able to pull together continue and basically develop along the same lines, because I'm very happy for example that MOFFOM shows a higher percentage of films from Africa and from Islamic countries than probably any other festival in the Czech Republic. And we do that year in year out constantly by going to those places and seeking out films from parts of the world that are otherwise not so well represented in the local context."

Anyone wanting to find out more about the Music on Film - Film on Music festival can visit the event's website at: