Jury chairman Tyc sez country's film is at a crossroads

PRAGUE — “The City of the Sun,” helmer Martin Sulik’s timely tale of laid-off workers who go into business for themselves, was the grand prizewinner at last week’s Pilsen Finale Czech film fest.

Czech film is at a crossroads, according to jury chairman Zdenek Tyc, one of the nation’s first post-Velvet Revolution rebel helmers. He bemoaned too many films “going the way of Hollywood.”

Sulik’s pic personifies the second approach, which Tyc called “the Czech way.”

“Czech Dream,” a comic lampooning of runaway consumerism that scored a special prize, is another original vision: Debut helmers Vit Klusak and Filip Remunda offer a pointed study of how the media manipulates the masses.

Fest saw more premieres than expected considering the anemic state of Czech state film funding and a tax bill, aimed at placing the burden on exhibs, distribs and networks, stuck in parliament. Some 25 features were in competition, a vast increase from last year’s 11.

However, “the quality was lower,” says the plain-spoken Tyc. “Sometimes very bad.”

Fest programmer Jan Kastner, pointing out that more than half the new glut of features were made by debut helmers, said Finale is deliberately inclusive, although he admitted the next goal is more depth. Steps in that direction this year, including three sidebars focusing on Czech film history and tributes to scribe Vladimir Korner and fantasy helmer Karel Zeman, were hot tickets in the 156-film West Bohemian fest.

But the major focus of international attention, another key growth goal of Finale, were the Czech Film Center’s panel on films in production (“I come to see what’s interesting for 2006-07,” said SPI director Jana Hloukova) and roundtables on the state of Czech filmmaking, featuring reps from the Venice and Cannes fests plus Variety‘s Eddie Cockrell.

A surfeit of docus unspooled as well, with jury chair Erika Hnikova awarding the prize for docu over 30 minutes to “God’s Stone Quarry,” a tale of life in the devastated North Bohemian coal fields by Bretislav Rychlik. “Things,” an affectionate look at obsessive collecting and housecleaning by Marta Hruba, took the under-30-minute docu prize.

Filip Renc’s “From Subway With Love,” a skewed romancer, took the audience award, while the FICC international film club award went to Jan Hrebejk’s “Up and Down.” An FICC special award went to Petr Zelenka’s darkly comic “Wrong Side Up.”

Other new features that garnered foreign film fest reps’ attention: Ivo Trajkov’s “The Great Water,” a gritty tale of life in a children’s prison camp in cold-war Macedonia; David Jarab’s “Vaterland — A Hunting Logbook,” a surreal Gothic comedy starring Karel Rodin and Petr Forman; and Martin Duba’s “The Farm Keeper,” a pastoral account of a struggling rural family.

Their heat constituted a good argument that Tyc, who directed distinctive social comedy “Brats,” may indeed be on to something.

Fest closed with a screening of Alice Nellis’ “Souvenir,” an ironic docu about the endless planning debate over what should be done with the hilltop spot overlooking Prague where the world’s biggest Stalin statue once glowered.

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