A chance to Czech out rarely seen classics

Cork film festival's new programme director has dipped into her homeland's rich movie heritage, writes Ellie O'Byrne
A chance to Czech out rarely seen classics

French New Wave director Jean-Luc Godard is once supposed to have remarked that all you need to make a movie is “a girl and a gun".

 So when young sociology and film graduate Anna Kopecka was forming her own production company to shoot a series of shoestring collaborative short films with friends, she called her company Girl and Gun.

Kopecká, from the Czech Republic, had studied at Charles University in Prague, but the academic career she had vaguely set her sights on was not to be.

“Compared to films and festivals it was quite boring for me, to be honest,” she says. “I never really succeeded in an academic career and I went straight back to films. But I think they’re really close, film and sociology. They’re both about society and studying how people live, finding out about things you don’t experience yourself.”

The daughter of a film and TV producer, Kopecká started volunteering at film festivals at 18. Following third-level education, she became completely immersed in the world of film. 

As well as founding her production company, she worked for a small independent arthouse distributor, and filled a range of different roles at film festivals, culminating in a three-year stint as Artistic Director with Prague International Film Festival, which, she says, was “really great, but really stressful.” 

Kopecká is Cork International Film Festival (CIFF) Director of Programming for 2020, the first year in a three-year tenure that, she says, is an exciting career progression.

“The Czech Republic is really similar to Ireland in that it’s not such a big country, so after a few years working at festivals you know everybody, all the directors and producers,” she says.

“It’s really nice, but it can feel a bit limiting so it feels like it’s a good idea to work abroad and gain that experience.”

For such a small country, the Czech Republic has an illustrious track record when it comes to filmmaking, most notably during the brief period in the 1960s when the Czech New Wave movement spawned a plethora of off-beat, radical and experimental films.

Politically, the Czech Republic experienced a liberalisation of the communist regime during the 1960s, culminating in the so-called Prague Spring in 1968 and the ensuing invasion of the Czech Republic by Soviet forces. 

After the invasion, the small country would experience renewed authoritarianism and censorship until the Velvet Revolution ended communist control in 1989.

In the sixties, filmmakers used the temporary relaxation of totalitarian control to find creative ways to critique the political system, Kopecká explains.

“Everyone was really excited and there was a lot of energy,” she says. “It was a period of time where it was possible to make difficult, metaphorical films and films that are experimental in lots of ways. I don’t think it would be possible, in the Czech Republic or in a lot of other countries, to get the funding for this type of film now.”

Kopecká is hosting an online CIFF screening of two Czech classics, Josef Kilián, a 1963 short film by New Wave director Pavel Juráček, and The Key for Determining Dwarfs, an experimental documentary that examines Juráček’s own life through the medium of his diaries.

Juráček was banned from filmmaking following the Soviet invasion after he released a surreal satire that critiqued the regime. He was plagued by depression in his later years.

Other New Wave filmmakers fled censorship, with varying degrees of success: the best known is probably Milos Forman, who enjoyed considerable success in Hollywood, directing One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Amadeus and The People vs Larry Flynt amongst others.

Czech New Wave films are often infused with a love of the surreal, a decidedly subversive streak, and a distinctive brand of humour; they are decidedly non-mainstream. Irish viewers unfamiliar with Czech New Wave will fall in love with its idiosyncracies and sense of adventure, Kopecká says; she hopes her double bill will be the first of many during her time with Cork International Film Festival.

“I want to bring more of the Czech classics to the film club and the festival, and hopefully sneak them into other programmes around Ireland. So if you see Czech films everywhere, it’s my fault. 

"But I have to say, I also try to promote Irish films in the Czech Republic in the same way, so it’s not a one-way street.”

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