Uherské Hradiště summer film school fest kicks off with Ecstasy, auteur Mike Leigh


The 44th annual Summer Film School and festival in Uherské Hradiště gets underway on Friday. Over the coming week, it will screen 202 films – including retrospectives of Lars von Trier and special guest Mike Leigh, who will also introduce three films that inspired him most – including the late great Miloš Forman’s classic Loves of a Blonde.

The Summer Film School in Uherské Hradiště is nothing if not eclectic. To attend the whole week is akin to taking a crash course in film, without the stress of cramming for exams. But while known for attracting mainly a younger audience and highlighting emerging talents –special emphasis this year is on the Greek Weird Wave – it really is a festival, not a “school”, says its director, Radana Korená.

“Nonetheless, the educational undercurrent is very important for us and always has been. We don’t simply screen films. Every film we show is introduced by an expert – and people who actually worked on them are accompanying the majority of films. There are also master classes by directors who talk about their work, the filmmaking process, or how specific films were shot. So, apart from just screenings, visitors to the festival have a chance to learn and experience far more.”

The festival kicks off this year with a classic, Gustav Machatý’s 1932 film Ecstasy, which introduced the world to Hedy Lamarr, in all her glory, just as God made her. Not only did Ecstasy include nude scenes of the Austrian-born beauty, it was the first commercial film to portray sexual intercourse – and the female orgasm.

The festival programme itself is divided into six basic sections, covering various genres, periods and themes, with one devoted to Cold War-era films, for example, and German silent films screening with live music. Among the special guests are Iranian director/actor Bahman Ghobadi, German director Roland Klick, who will be teaching master classes.

But the star attraction is undoubtedly British auteur Mike Leigh. Known for his gritty social realism and eye for spotting raw talents, such as Tim Roth and Gary Oldman, he recently was knighted for his half-century of work. Among the films in his own retrospective, all of which Sir Mike will introduce, is the period drama Mr Turner, which was nominated for four Oscars.

Mike Leigh,  photo: archive of Uherské Hradiště summer film school
There will also be a special screening of Czech New Wave classic The Joke, based on the Milan Kundera novel and shot in Uherské Hradiště 50 years ago. Scene locations are marked throughout the town with stills by famed photographer Jan Kuděla.

But perhaps best capturing the spirit of the Summer Film School are the open-air screenings –best seen with a beer in hand – such as Saturday night’s Student Marathon – 240 minutes of works by emerging talents. And there’s no need to worry that you’ll stick out if your own student days are long behind you, says Radana Korená.

“For sure, there are mostly younger people. But in no way could it be called a festival for students, people under 25. Not at all! We have people coming who are in their teens but also in their seventies. We even have visitors who have taken part in every Summer Film School in the festival’s history – they are huge fans.”