The 21 films in the Czech Joy section at the Ji.hlava docu fest represent a remarkably wide range of stylistic approaches, several representing international collaboration and taking on weighty subjects ranging from grief and loss to corruption and the destruction of the environment.
Among the entries in the competitive event are three shorts and several projects filmed in farflung locations ranging from Argentina to Uganda and the Antarctic.
Czech docus are more diverse than ever these days but traditionally share several qualities – irony and a strong sense of what the filmmakers call dramaturgy among them – that make them distinct from those of many other European nations.
Several in this section show off these approaches in spades this year, such as Petr Sprincl’s “Moravia, O Fair Land III,” a “folk costumed zombie horror under the supervision of a modern Adam and Eva from a Czech TV quiz show,” which mixes “classical tragedy and ethnographic studies, biblical parable and low-brow genres.” A 30-year-old court case is also sent up in Robert Sedlacek’s pointed polemic “The Judge over the Czech Way.”
One docu, by a New York-based Czech filmmaker, Bara Jichova Tyson, brings to the table a light tone that’s in contrast to many of the somber explorations by directors who work within their native territory.
In Tyson’s film, “Talking About Adultery,” which premiered earlier this year at the Sheffield Doc/Fest, irony is rich, as her approach to the subject of sex, marriage and philandering makes use of 50 colorful, offbeat confessional voice-overs recorded over five years.
As these wax from philosophical to irreverent, Tyson accompanies them with images of her own making as a surrealist artist and subjects wear chimpanzee masks or walk on pink-hued beaches.
She sets her story “in New York, the Czech Republic, a vast cactus garden in Sicily and the homes of the film’s subject,” and we hear from mistresses, husbands, wives and participants in non-traditional polyamorous relationships.
Tyson says she “didn’t have a script or a fixed concept for a long time and for many years I was just collecting interviews and visuals.” The story was largely crafted in post-production but a central line emerges in the letters between two characters, B and R, one is in the Czech Republic and one is in New York.
Tyson recorded mainly interviews about cheating with U.S. subjects, she says, because “the subject was so taboo in puritan U.S.A., it was intriguing to me.”
Personal stories, as ever, play a leading role in the Czech Joy section, with one example, “Solo,” exemplifying how French, Argentine and Austrian teamwork can elevate Czech films’ scope. This story by Parisian Artemio Benki of a piano virtuoso who struggles with mental illness, was backed by Czech producer Petra Oplatkova along with Benki and three other international producers.
Other Czech films show off the country’s penchant for thoughtful considerations of philosophical subjects, such as man’s relationship to technology and its social impacts, as seen in Marie-Magdalena Kochova’s “Apparatgeist” and the prospect of filming and unfilmable screenplay in David Jarab’s “Vratislav Effenberger or Black Shark Hunting.” Viera Cakanyova’s “FREM,” meanwhile, takes on the idea of perspectives on nature that are beyond human perception.
Gritty social issues are also taken on, including elder abuse (Ivana Pauerova-Milosevicova’s “Hate Out of Love 3: Story of Domestic Violence”), families coping with disabled children (“I Want You If You Dare” by Dagmar Smrzova), and the murders of Slovak journalist Jan Kuciak and his fiancee Martina Kusnirova in 2018 in Zuzana Piussi’s “The State Capture.”