Art Film’s relaxed atmosphere

Robbe-Grillet, Chaplin head competition

If you have a problem envisioning Sophia Loren or Peter Greenaway hobnobbing with film fans in rural Slovakia, well, you just haven’t been to Art Film.

The 7-year-old festival in the spa town with the tongue-twisting name of Trencianske Teplice is something of a small miracle. Led by amiable founder Peter Hledik, himself a producer-director of art docs, the fest embraces films as art and films with art as their theme. A competition was introduced two years ago, with international juries headed by Alain Robbe-Grillet and Geraldine Chaplin.

Indeed, Art Film has succeeded in attracting the creme de la creme of guests as well as Eurocrats to participate in its well-organized seminars.

Its name notwithstanding, there’s nary a whiff of pretentiousness at Art Film. Film students mingle with producers, and both are as warmly welcomed as the international stars who make the three-hour drive from the Vienna airport.

With limited screening facilities, the pace is more akin to a relaxing retreat. Leave your tux at home. Evening socializing — and everyone at the festival attends — ranges from medieval pageantry at a nearby ancient fortress to hearty Slovak treats served at a rustic restaurant to the obligatory midnight dip in the art deco pool perched on the leafy hillside above the festival center.

Strolls in the park and nibbling on freshly baked wafers or imbibing the local mineral waters make for soothing daytime breaks — a necessity for those who over-imbibed on another Slovak specialty, an eye-watering plum brandy called Sliwowitz.

Budding film fest directors could take lessons from Hledik on how to launch a success against all odds. His “never take no as an answer” perseverance extended to snaring Greenaway as the first high-profile guest, jumpstarting the fest.

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