14th Art Film Festival in Trencianske Teplice and Trencin in Slovakia
Ron Holloway, Berlin, 05 July 2006
A unique Slovak festival geared to the tastes of the discriminate cineaste, the 14th Art Film Festival in Trencianske Teplice and Trencin (23 June to 01 July 2006) has survived over the years due to the vision and ingenuity of its tireless filmmaking director, Peter Hlednik. Back in 1993, shortly after the Velvet Revolution had breathed new life into a moribund Czechoslovakia, only to prompt a reluctant split between the Czechs and Slovaks, Peter Hlednik journeyed to London in a singular effort to bring British avant-garde director Peter Greenaway to Trencianske Teplice for a festival homage. “We had absolutely nothing to show for the promotion of a festival that didn’t yet exist,” he said in response to my query about how it all began. “So I went to a local print shop and had a fake visiting card printed stating: ‘Art Film Festival, London Office’ and it worked!” That same entrepreneur spirit is echoed in the motto Hlednik has chosen to introduce the 14th outing: “I hope that the films screened at our festival will bring you the same delight as to their makers in their realization.” Sound familiar? It’s the closing line spoken by a member of a film crew in François Truffaut’s La nuit américaine (France/Italy, 1973) aka Day for Night, in reference to Truffaut’s use of special filters in that film to shoot night scenes in broad daylight. La nuit américaine, of course, was programmed as a special screening at this year’s Art Film festival.
Located at a renown spa with a hamam (Turkish bath) built over a 50% Celsius hot spring, Trencianske Teplice was a favorite resort frequented by the well-to-do during the interregnum period. Following the Second World War, the spa fell upon hard times under communist rule, then rose again like a phoenix when Slovakia declared its independence. Hotels have been restored, the Kursalon was turned into a comfortable makeshift cinema, and sponsors were found for the midnight parties. Nearby is the ancient city of Trencin, with its castle towering over a lively medieval square. Guests and journalists willingly made the 10-minute, minibus ride daily to Trencin from the festival base in Trencianske Teplice, simply because the sidebar attractions there at the MAX multiplex proved just as tempting. A Trencin gallery also hosted a stunning photography exhibition in honor of Slovak filmmaker-photographer Dusan Hanak.
Among the festival guests-of-honor this year were Poland’s Andrzej Wajda, Czech Republic’s Jiri Menzel, Serbia’s Goran Paskaljevic, Slovakia’s Juraj Jakubisko, British-American actress Jacqueline Bisset, and veteran Slovak actor Lubomir Lipsky, to name just the cream of the gathering. Lubomir Lipsky (born 1923) he should not be confused with his directorial brother, Oldrich Lipsky (1924-1986) of Lemonade Joe (Czechoslovakia, 1964) fame appeared in no less than 76 films and telefeatures as well as playing 215 stage roles dating back to his first appearance as an 8-year-old. The Lipsky brothers collaborated on a gangster parody set in a fictitious American smalltown, Four Murders Are Not Enough, Darling (Czechoslovakia, 1970), a hit even today at the special screening arranged for the tribute. Bisset and Lipsky were both honored with name plaques on the balustrade bridge before the Hotel Most Slavy alongside Sophia Loren, Catherine Deneuve, Franco Nero, Jean-Paul Belmondo, and two dozen others in the so-called “Actor’s Mission” lineup.
The festival catalogue, numbering 230 pages, provided the cineaste with a wealth of accurate archival information. Altogether, 280 films in 19 sections were presented, the sidebars curated by critics and friends of the Art Film festival. Indeed, it was sometimes hard to keep up with the rich diversity of the overall program. An international jury headed by John Irvin was charged with three competitions: Blue Angel (10 feature films), Artefacts (29 documentaries, short features, animated and experimental films), and On the Road (22 student films). As for the attractive sidebars, this included the following: Official Selection (films about filmmaking), Finnish White Nights (curated by Zuzana Paukova), Indonesian Cinema (curated by Ivana Petrikova), Wild Strawberries (Swedish films curated by Thom Palmen of the Umea film festival), Art Film Fest (arthouse hits and rarities), Cult Films of the 20th Century (curated by Martin Ciel), 50 Years Ago (films produced in 1956, curated by Martin Kanuch), The Best of Project 100 (curated by Miro Ulman), Just Over the Border (CentEast films), Slovak Season (curated by Martina Diosi), Slovak Feature Coproduction Films (e.g., Jan Svankmajer’s Sileni / Lunacy, Czech & Slovak Republics, 2005), Director’s Space (three films by Serb director Goran Paskaljevic), Homage to Vlado Müller (the actor was remembered in Peter Hledik’s Chutvady /The Taste of Water, Czechoslovakia 1982), Golden Camera (awarded to Slovakia’s Dusan Hanak and Poland’s Andrzej Wajda), and Actor’s Mission (Jacqueline Bisset was honored with a special screening of John Irvin’s The Fine Art of Love (UK/Czech Republic, 2005).
Of all the sidebar offerings the films in the 50 Years Ago interested me the most. Here you could see some of the classics of world cinema that were produced in 1956, among them: Robert Bresson’s Un condamné s’est échappé (A Condemned Man Escapes) (France), Andrzej Munk’s Clovek na kolaniciach (Man on the Tracks) (Poland), Stanley Kubrick’s The Killing (USA), and John Ford’s The Searchers (USA). But just as intriguing were some of the selections in the Cult Films of the 20th Century: Buster Keaton’s restored The General (USA, 1927), Stanley Donen’s Singin’ in the Rain (USA, 1952), Billy Wilder’s Some Like It Hope (USA, 1959), Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (USA, 1960), Claude Lelouche’s Un homme et une femme (France, 1966), Dennis Hopper’s Easy Rider (USA, 1969), and George Roy Hill’s Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (USA, 1969), among others. A festival inside a festival.
Asked to serve on the international jury under president John Irvin, I was please to note that fellow jury members included top professionals in their fields: Czech writer and film historian Antonin Liehm, Hungarian filmmaker Zoltan Kamondi, Croatian cinematographer Zivko Zalar, Czech screenwriter Jiri Stransky, Slovak actress Katerina Sulajova, and Slovak film historian Richard Blech. What surprised me, though, was the task of screening a grand total of 61 films from all three sections: Blue Angel, Artefacts, and On the Road. The only solution was to split the jury in half to view the body of films in an individual program and report on the findings each morning to other members of the jury. Since I had already seen most of the feature films in the Blue Angel section, I volunteered, together with Jiri Stransky and Katerina Sulajova, to view the 51 films in the Artefacts and On the Road programs and weed out the important films to be seen by the other jury members. Our choices turned out to be pretty accurate and quite acceptable under the circumstances. Then, when the time came to write the jury declarations, we penned together some lines for the award winners. For festival directors and cinematheque programmers, the jury awards and corresponding declarations are listed below.
This added note: The International Jury recognized in the On the Road section that various genres were competing against each other. The jury suggests that another award be given in the future in this category for a director’s innovative approach to filmmaking, and that this award should be named after Elo Havetta as homage to this outstanding artist. For the reader not familiar with the legacy of Elo Havetta (1938-1975), this gifted graphic artist and avant-garde filmmaker with a distinct talent for the surreal and the grotesque made only two feature films, Slavnost v botanickej zahrade (The Party in the Botanical Garden) (Czechoslovakia, 1968) and Lalie polne (The Lilies of the Field) (Czechoslovakia, 1972), both of which were shelved in the aftermath the Prague invasion. When Havetta refused to bend to the authorities, he was finished as a created artist and died a tragic figure in Slovak cinema. What remains is his legacy as a mythic genius.
Blue Angel Competition
The International Jury awarded the Blue Angel Prize (10,000 Euro purse) for Best Director to Wang Xiaoshuai’s Qing Hong (Shanghai Dreams) (China) for “imaginatively taking the pulse of the changing political climate in China during the early 1980s as mirrored in the lives of a family longing to return to Shanghai after a lengthy exile in the provinces with the fate of the 19-year-old daughter hanging in the balance.”
The Prize for Best Cinematographer (10,000 Euro purse) was awarded to Jury Klimenko for his lensing of Alexei Uchitel’s Snivanie o vesmire (Dreaming of Space) (Russia) for “brilliantly capturing in pictorial detail the mood of the Soviet Union in the crucial year of 1957, when young people on the Baltic Sea border sought to fulfill their dreams of a new life with more freedom.”
The Grand Prix Art Film for Best Actor (10,000 Euro purse) was awarded to David Dencik for his role in Pernille Fischer Christensen’s En Soap (A Soap) (Denmark/Sweden) for “poignantly mirroring the dilemma of a transvestite trying to maintain a sense of dignity whose only support is the daily television soap.”
The Prix Art Film for Best Short Feature Film (4,000 Euro purse) was awarded to Balint Kenyeres’s Before Dawn (Hungary) for “its one-shot narrative, precisely orchestrated, at a failed border-crossing by asylum seekers in a field as dawn is breaking.”
The Prix Art Film for Best Documentary Film (4,000 Euro purse) was awarded to Jean-Gabriel Périot’s Eut elle été criminelle … (Even If She Had Been a Criminal…) (France) for “its moving statement on the mistreatment of women publicly accused of cohabitating with the Germans in 1944 in a newly liberated Paris.”
The Prix Art Film for Best Animated or Experimental Film, with a purse of 4,000 Euros, was awarded to Riho Unt’s Vennad karusüdamed (Brothers Bearhearts) (Estonia) for “its inventive style of puppet animation in a hilarious satire on art in Paris and Russia at the end of the 19th century.”
On the Road Competition
The Prix Art Film for Best Student Film (3,000 Euro purse) was awarded to Filip Marczewski’s Melodramat (Melodrama) (Poland) for “the director’s skillful handling of a multi-layered story of love, longing, and pain as experienced through the eyes of a sensitive 14-year-old boy in his relationships with his older sister, a young girlfriend, and the neighborhood toughs. A brilliant student film by a promising directorial talent.”
The Award of the Mayor of the City of Trencin was given to actress Isabelle Huppert for “her moving performance in Patrice Chéreau’s Gabrielle (France/Italy) of a sensitive woman caught in the web of a sterile marriage in the claustrophobic atmosphere of 1912 Paris.”
The Award of the Mayor of the City of Trencianske Teplice was given to Szabolcs Hajdu for scripting Feher tenyer (White Palms) (Hungary), also directed by Szabolcs Hajdu, “for portraying the struggle of a talented but injured gymnast to rebuild his life far from Hungary as the coach of another rebellious youth on a Canadian team.”
The Award of the Artistic Director of the Festival was given to the Andrzej Wajda School in Poland “for his guiding hand in the films of talented young filmmakers as exemplified in three films in the On the Road section: Melodramat (Melodrama) by Filip Marczewski, Za plotom (Behind the Fence) by Marcin Sauter, and the omnibus film Cisza (The Silence) by six young directors.
Don Quixote Award (FICC International Federation of Film Clubs)