Although film production in Slovakia is small and largely dictated by its 5.4 million population — an estimated 350 films have been made in its entire history — the industry has roughly kept pace with its international peers since the artform was invented.
Long periods of state control under communist rule monitored the bulk of its output in the mid-to-late 20th century, but Slovakian cinema has enjoyed its creative peaks — notably in the ’60s, when the influence of Italian neo-realism and French New Wave took hold.
After the end of the nationalized industry in the early 1990s, Slovak production virtually collapsed, but for a small country, recent production has been quite healthy, with an average of around 12 features a year. Most are co-productions with the Czech Republic, with around half of them majority share productions.
It’s possible that the industry could be on the verge of a comeback; this year’s Art Film Fest (which runs June 16-24) contains two local productions in its international competition — Tereza Nvotova’s “Filthy,” about a young girl dealing with rape trauma, and Gyorgy Kristof’s “Out,” which sees a middle-age man loses his job in a power plant.
“There have been years when we couldn’t nominate a single Slovak film for the main competition,” says Art Film Fest artistic director Peter Nagel. “But this is the first time ever that Slovakia is represented by not one, but two films.”
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Both titles arrive back in their native land after adventures in the wider world — Nvotova’s “Filthy,” the director’s first foray into fiction, premiered at Rotterdam’s Bright Futures sidebar, while Kristof’s debut, “Out,” bowed at Cannes.
“Kristof is the first Slovak filmmaker ever who was chosen for the Cannes festival in Un Certain Regard competition,” says Nágel. “His film ‘Out’ is very different to other Slovak films. It is no severe social drama, even though it talks about complicated problems in the present day. He has a strong visual look. The film is atmospheric and vivid, with a narration [that] is more episodic and fragmentary — the problems are only sketched.”
Filmmakers are cautious about predicting whether another film boom might coming down the pipe, with some noting, off the record, that even established names struggle to find financing.
But Nagel feels that things are headed in the right direction, thanks to increased government support. “The initiation of the Slovak Audiovisual Fund in 2010 was the first and most important thing in the gradual development of Slovakian [filmmaking],” he says. “The precise conditions of state support of cinema are indicators of development and progress of domestic cinema.”
The fund replaced the former grant system of the Ministry of Culture, offering financial support to every link of the film chain from development to exhibition.
Nagel sees this as offering great benefits. “But most of all, I am very much looking forward to a generational exchange in Slovak cinema,” he says. “There is, in my opinion, a better situation in our country than there is in the Czech Republic. There is a group of young auteurs, like Matyas Prikler, Juraj Lehotsky, Marko Skop, Mira Fornay, Gyorgy Kristof and Michal Kollar, who have been established at an international level. They are the future of Slovak cinema.”