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The distinctive look and feel of the Czech Republic’s Ji.hlava film festival – fringy, arty, a bit punk via eco-warrior – is down in many ways to one man: Juraj Horvath. The Slovak artist, provocateur and illustrator of children’s books has created what he calls the “visual identity” of the docu fest for 20 years – and confesses the whole process is still somewhat of a mystery to him.

Festgoers at Ji.hlava have come to expect the unexpected, knowing they may find painted shipping containers taking over the small Czech town that shares its name one year, or images of children’s construction toys – or perhaps bags that double as hats.

The long collaboration with the fest began in the early days of the event, now in its 23rd edition, says Horvath, who knew Ji.hlava founder Marek Hovorka while both were students.

At first Horvath, characteristically, made most of his work by hand, choosing unusual paper, inks, typefaces and materials for fest tickets, catalogs, fliers and posters. He also set up public art pieces throughout the fest environs and ran art exhibitions during the event, a sideline he still engages in. Horvath also occasionally teams with docu filmmakers, as he did when shaping the visual themes for the 2009 Czech cycling expose “Auto*Mat” by Martin Marecek.

Horvath also admits to a fascination for glow-in-the-dark ink, which he still sometimes incorporates into Ji.hlava T-shirt and bag designs. Horvath admits he enjoys the thought of surprised fest-goers noticing their new togs emanating a faint, greenish light when they first take them into a dark room.

“It adds something,” says the artist, who also creates the posters for Ji.hlava, conjuring an image and style that’s bold and distinct each year. While the fest does organize itself around a theme, this is often decided after Horvath has already set about creating his new look, he says, describing the collaboration as “instinctive and organic.”

This year’s Ji.hlava poster, featuring a primitive art-style face whose thoughts seem to meld into clouds that are shared with Earth’s heavens, harken back to what Horvath calls a “monumental” image. “You can see its shape at a distance – it’s not full of complicated details.”

The face’s eyes, he notes, are not engaging the viewer but are askew, as if the figure is lost in thought. This motif seems to riff on an early idea for a symbol of Ji.hlava, the simple image of a funnel. That conical shape, which the fest has sometimes incorporated into the tricolor Czech flag, which is composed of triangles, represents the pouring of ideas and information into audiences’ minds, Horvath says, but notes it’s also meant to be a bit ironic.

His fascination for such old junkshop items has aided Horvath in the creation of many of his works, including this year’s catalog for the fest’s Emerging Producers event, celebrating the best new docu talents from around the region. The oversize book, featuring a section on each of 18 producers on the rise, is decorated with a collection of items that look to have been lifted from someone’s grandfather’s workshop: A broken arm from a doll, an old Polaroid, a wooden head and a small pumpkin.

Although there’s still no real team of artists working in support for Horvath, he says he finds the process freeing and engaging in a way that’s wholly apart from the hours spent on graphic design for publishers such as Baobab, Argo and Labyrint.

“I work alone,” says Horvath cheerily, speaking between lectures at Prague’s prestigious UMPRUM Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design, where he teaches. “I am not a studio.”

(Link to industry catalog here.)