Tomáš Baldýnský – film critic AND chair of state film support body

Tomáš Baldýnský

Tomáš Baldýnský is one of the Czech Republic’s leading film critics and is known for not pulling any punches in his reviews. He is also the unpaid chairman of the government body which supports Czech film-making, though his term in the post ends soon. When we met the other day we discussed how he manages to reconcile those two activities. But that was after I put it to Tomáš Baldýnský that given the fact most movies aren’t particularly good, it must be hard to maintain his enthusiasm for reviewing.

“It’s not really easy…The thing is I really like films, I like watching films and sometimes I like even watching bad films, because it gives you some kind of information. Sometimes they’re so bad that you laugh at them. The worst thing is to be mediocre: I say, what I love is when you lose, but big time.

“But still we have 300 films each year. I see most of them. It works with your unconscious, because in the mix are mainly Hollywood movies or movies that try to be Hollywood movies. You seem to get that pattern of story-telling, you are kind of poisoned by that.

“Then when you see – more seldom – Asian movies, Russian movies, even some European movies that are not following the Hollywood formula, you see that they are good but you just kind of reject the pattern. You have to fight to be still open, and I’m not quite sure if you can keep being open.”

What about meeting and interviewing actors and directors – is that something that you still get a kick out of after many years of doing your job?

“I lost that. From the beginning of my time as a journalist I loved doing interviews. At one time in my life I was going around the world and meeting film stars and doing interviews, meeting directors, actresses, actors…

“Now I try to only meet people who I am interested in…you think you are interested in them but then you meet them and you usually stop being interested in them. That’s a regular experience. And now I’m about not doing any interviews at all.”

As well as reviewing films you do many other activities, including, I discovered on the internet, acting – you acted in a couple of films by the director Marek Dobeš, you played a character called Hitchcock in two films…What was that all about?

Marek Dobeš, photo: Pavla Horáková
“Marek Dobeš is a former journalist and when he was doing his first film called I Was a Teenage Intellectual he asked me and a couple of other journalists he likes to play in the film. Because I am the worst actor of them all I got the part of a guy who walks along the street, which is a typical part Hitchcock usually took in his films.

“So I was just named Hitchcock and then when he did his first feature film – which I hated – he asked me to appear in that as well. So I reprised my role as Hitchcock, and I assume that when Marek will be doing another film which I will hate I will also star in it, because that’s the love-hate relationship we have.”

Do you often find yourself hating films or even disliking films you’re reviewing by people you know or friends of yours? And how do you get around that socially?

“Socially it’s difficult. And I think that the wisest thing for a film critic is just not to socialise with the makers of films at all…Well, you need to meet them because you need to get to know the industry – it’s not possible to just sit in the cinema and watch the films, because every film has some context in which you have to review it.

“But still, yes, a couple of great friends after a review stopped calling me and stopped taking my calls. I’m not angry with them. And personally I know…I don’t just write film reviews, I also write scripts for comic strips and I have this creative experience as well…and I know how hard it is to take criticism. Not because you’re a bad person, but just because you spend so much time and put so much passion into doing some project, and then somebody just writes an opinion on half a page…

“Within the system, this is the trouble. You just can’t lie, because it’s your personal credit, because you write what you really feel. And sometimes what you feel hurts other people. But that’s the business.”

For over a year you’ve been the chairman of the state fund for support and development of Czech cinematography. What exactly does that job entail?

“This position you can take as it’s written in the law. Which is that you just sit somewhere and wait for the scripts to come, then you read them and say, I like them or I don’t like them. And that would be it.

“But the state fund when I was voted chairman was facing a new time. Money was running thin. The future was somehow grim, because the law the fund is based on is really old, it was passed even before DVD was introduced to the market…

“So everything called for action. I was part of a lobby group who tried relatively very successfully to raise some money, and this year the fund will have the biggest amount of money it ever had in its history.

“The second thing is that I tried but I only had one year, which is not really a lot of time, considering that you have to do other things to keep yourself alive. I tried to reorganise how things are being handled there, which is really something for the long run. My mandate is expiring next month…I introduced reform but I wasn’t really able to apply it.”

Has it been a source of conflict for you, to be still working as a critic but also part of this fund which helps support new films?

“It really changed the way I write. The first thing is that you are with the project from the beginning. So it sometimes softens [your reviews], because you know how troublesome the shoot was, that they didn’t have enough money.

“But then for example you see a film and you’ve given money for some kind of script but then the script was completely rewritten, to the worse, and then it was shot. In that case you kind of hate it more, because you know how good it could have been and how badly it turned out.”

But it isn’t it almost unethical for you to review a film with which you have been involved at an early stage?

“It would be unethical if I had some possibility to influence the project, which we don’t. The only thing we do is say yes or no, as part of a group of people.

“It could be unethical in a way, I could tend to be nicer to films, because we granted some money to them so we don’t want to look like fools…which doesn’t happen because I am more vicious.

“But still the question is when you are in the cinematography industry in such a small country as this is, you’ll always be in some kind of clash of interests.”