PILSEN, Czech Republic — Here’s an irony for you: the Czech Republic, said to be having an off year and faced with dwindling film funds, still turns out a slate of films that includes a half-dozen or so with international fest circuit promise. The results, shown at the 16th edition of the national film fest Finale in Pilsen, drew programmers from an increasingly prominent array of fests, including Cannes and Berlin.
A case in point is “Pupendo” by Oscar-nommed helmer Jan Hrebejk, which snared best feature award at the April 5 ceremony. Hrebejk continues his exploration of the nation’s past, this time delving into the dark Cold War days of the 1980s, while eschewing the easy accessibility and golden tones of 2000’s “Divided We Fall.” A mature, thorny comedy, “Pupendo” has already attracted 100,000 viewers in its first week of release, putting it on track to be the year’s top grosser in the market.
Finale added an international feature film jury this year, chaired by blacklisted Prague Spring cinematographer Stanislav Milota. Fellow jurors included German producer Tanja Meding, Berlin fest programmer Nikolaj Nikitin, European festivals coordinator Thom Palmen, and Variety critic Eddie Cockrell.
Jury and auds were also in agreement over second place winner “Brats” by Zdenek Tyc. In addition, film picked up the audience award and a best actor prize for Ivan Trojan. A social drama about racism and adoption, “Brats” was largely overlooked when it preemed at last July’s Karlovy Vary fest.
Respected Slovak theater director Juraj Nvota turned out an accomplished debut film, “Cruel Joys,” a period piece filled with strong performances. Roman Vavra’s colorful fairytale “The Devil Knows Why” and animated collage “Jan Werich’s Fimfarum” raised the bar for children’s film production. Other new productions attracting attention included Ivan Vojnar’s “Forest Walkers,” Jan Kraus’ “Small Town” and a preview screening of “Unfaithful Games,” the feature debut of award winning adult film animator Michaela Pavlatova.
Fest director Ivan Jachim initiated an encouraging upgrade of fest facilities. That, combined with the launch of a panel on Czech films in production last year, bodes well for a growth of international presence at the event.
The Pilsners cashed in on the city’s rep as a world beer capital by screening a selection of beer-themed films at the Pilsner-Urquell brewery. A youngish crowd sampled the local liquid gold along with the golden oldie films. Jachim told Variety he hopes to continue those screenings next year.