In today's Arts I will take you beyond the borders of the Czech Republic. We visit a film festival in the eastern German city of Cottbus. There are dozens or even hundreds of different film festivals around Europe, but the Cottbus one is special; it is the biggest display of films produced in countries of Central and Eastern Europe.
The 14th year of the Cottbus Film Festival last week had a special focus - "New Czech Cinema". Part of the festival tradition is to focus each year on the cinema of a particular country. I asked the festival director Roland Rust why they decided to present Czech films this year.
"Czech cinema, Czech movies have always had a good platform here at the film festival in Cottbus. In the past we proudly presented some of the biggest hits of Czech cinema in the country, and they were some of the most popular films also here at the festival. So people are looking forward to seeing the latest films coming from the neighbouring Czech Republic. So the success that luckily Czech films have with their local audience in the Czech Republic is a fact that is very little known outside of the Czech Republic -- that they are the most popular films within their own market - now the popularity of Czech films is also confirmed outside of the Czech Republic, for example here at the festival."
Famous Czech film director - the Oscar winner Jan Sverak - who was a guest at the festival, made a list of the top ten Czech films of recent years that would best represent the new generation of Czech film makers. Many of his Czech colleagues such as Jan Hrebejk, Sasa Gedeon or Alice Nelis also took part in the festival to present their movies and to discuss different issues regarding contemporary Czech cinema with festival visitors. Young Czech film director Marek Dobes presented his new black horror comedy "Chocking Hazard" and was rather pleased with the audience response.
"In my opinion these people here at this kind of a festival, such as Cottbus, are more focused, they are more prepared, they know something about the area, about the region, about the style of these films. Maybe they would be more surprised by 'Chocking Hazard' because this film is a black horror comedy which has no comparison with films which are made in Europe those days. Some of the visitors appreciated it because it has a new fresh look. A few of them are shocked and a few are angry because they don't agree with this kind of film style where you laugh at blood, etc."
Jana Cernik from the Czech Film Center also believes that the audience in Cottbus has a better understanding for Czech films but she doesn't think it is necessarily the same case in the whole of Germany.
"You have to bear in mind that the festival takes place in the east of Germany where Czech film tradition is better known, especially the fairytales and the films for children. And I think they also understand very well that sort of ironic and absurd sense of humor which is still present in Czech films. So I think they've been a great audience. For example regarding the film 'Wild Bees', by Bohdan Slama, which was in German distribution, the distributor said that there was a difference between the countries around the Czech border, like the eastern or southern part of Germany where the film was very much attended, but it was not the same e.g. in the north. So I think these people know little bit better and understand better this sense of humor and they appreciate it more."
Cottbus really seems to be an ideal place for a festival, which brings together different cultures of the part of Europe which used to be known as the Eastern Bloc. The city of Cottbus is located on the eastern edge of Germany, close to the Polish border and not far from the Czech Republic. The region is called Lusatia. Even though it is part of Germany it is inhabited by an ethnic minority called the Lusatian Sorbs whose language is very close to Czech and Polish. I asked director Roland Rust whether the multicultural character of this place was also one of the reasons of organizing this kind of a festival there.
"Well, I am not fully sure if that is the real reason to have the Festival of East European Cinema here in the city of Cottbus. But it is true; so our guests for example they arrive by train and at the Main Railway Station in Cottbus they immediately see, just below the German name Cottbus, its Sorbian version Chotebus. You know it is a language on its own, it's a culture on its own, it's an ethnicity on its own - they are Slavic. So for our guests, who are of the similar cultural background and of a similar language, like the Poles or Czechs it is understandable. So this helps the atmosphere of the festival, as the people start to feel like at home very quickly."
And of course, even though Czech films dominated this year in Cottbus, there were many other films from Eastern Europe featured as well. A special prize for outstanding artistic achievement went to the Croatian Film "A Wonderful Night in Split", a special mention was given to the Polish film "The Wedding", while the main prize was won by a Russian-Kazakh-French-German co-production by Gulshad Omarowa called "Schizo".
The festival with its great atmosphere and large number of films has shown that there are many exceptional movies being produced in this part of the world, but unfortunately not all of them reach the screens of our cinemas.
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