Febiofest expands into new dimensions

Prague’s biggest film festival is on the launch pad with enough films to fill a multiplex for week – plus free music and notable guests

Director Veit Helmer will introduce his latest comedy, “Baikonur” | na serveru Lidovky.cz | aktuální zprávy Director Veit Helmer will introduce his latest comedy, “Baikonur” | foto: © m-appealČeská pozice
Director Veit Helmer will introduce his latest comedy, “Baikonur”

The biggest film festival in Prague is gearing up for its 19th edition, with a roster of films from across the world that otherwise wouldn’t make it onto local screens. Every year FebioFest tries to present something new and this year its overlooked 3D films from such diverse places as Japan and Poland. But that is just one of 20 film categories in the festival.

Most of the films will be shown at the Cinestar Anděl multiplex in Prague 5–Smíchov from March 22–30. Funding for arts has been drastically scaled back during the recession, but filmgoers shouldn’t notice any changes. “It was not easy. We screen films in 13 halls and we do 496 projections of 182 films and at the same time we are trying to stabilize the festival before its 20th birthday next year,” festival press manager Pavel Sladký told Czech Position. “The festival is being prepared by a very small crew, but we do our best for viewers not to notice any discomfort.”

Festival director Fero Fenič is optimistic. “I believe that the 19th year will mean the beginning of a new period of the existence of Febiofest, which started as a small event of several enthusiasts and which has become an inherent part of the Czech cultural calendar,” he said.

The lineup this year has a number of highly anticipated films and a few guests. Most prominent among the guests are French actress Sandrine Bonnaire and Italian director Nanni Moretti. Both will have sections in the festival dedicated to their films. Polish director Agnieska Holland will also receive an award at the festival, and a screening of the most recent film, “In Darkness,” is under negotiation. Other directors and stars — including eight of the 12 directors of films in the New Europe competition — will appear throughout the festival when their films are screened. Note that the guests will not appear at all screenings of all of their films.

Sladký named “Martha Marcy May Marlene” as a standout among the films in the Made in USA section, which focuses on films that are not the typical big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. The film’s title character — who uses several different names — falls victim to a cult and has trouble coping with the real world once she leaves. The film won the directing award for newcomer Sean Durkin at the Sundance Film Festival.

Of local interest, “The Swell Season” is a black-and-white documentary about the musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, who shot to fame with the movie “Once” and the Oscar-winning song “Falling Slowly.” Stardom took a toll on the couple’s relationship.

The section has a mix of well-known and obscure entries. “There are debuts like ‘Without’ and ‘Magic Valley’ as well as Cameron Crowe’s latest film, ‘We Bought a Zoo,’” Sladký said. “Without” won awards at the Marrakesh and Thessaloniki film festivals. “Magic Valley” is a small-town tragedy starring Scott Glenn.

Director Cameron Crowe made quite a departure from his previous work with “We Bought a Zoo,” a family film starring Matt Damon and Scarlett Johansson. It is loosely based on a true story of a couple who bought a rundown zoo in England. The movie version transposes the action to US. Another upbeat tale involving animals can be found in “Big Miracle,” based on a true story of a Cold War international effort to save some whales trapped in the ice off the coast of Alaska.

Eye on Asia

The festival affords an opportunity to explore world cinema, and Sladký encourages people to look beyond the films with well-known stars and directors. “Most of the films screened this year have English dialogue or English subtitles. The rest are marked as ‘English unfriendly’ in our program, so expats and foreign visitors, who are welcome, can easily recognize whether the film is good for them,” Sladký said.

This year the festival has sections covering film from Asia, Latin America, the Balkans and Turkey plus nine retrospectives and a New Europe competition. The Latin American Panorama features 10 films including the road film “Las Acacias,” the winner of a trio of awards at Cannes and the Sutherland Trophy from the British Film Institute. In this Spanish-Argentinian co-production a reluctant truck driver is forced to take a woman and her child as passengers from Paraguay to Buenos Aires.

Another award winner in this section is “Chinese Take-Away,” which took three prizes including Best Picture from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences of Argentina. This film looks at a new arrival from China who is trying to find a relative, and the stranger who tries to help him. Over he course of the film, the story of the immigrant’s life unfolds.

Asia has been the source of some of the more interesting films in recent years. The offering is quite diverse, ranging from “Warriors of the Rainbow,” a Taiwanese historical epic produced by action film maker John Woo, to “Flying Fish,” a three-story film centered on the Civil War in Sri Lanka. Fans of Asian thrillers will want to give a chance to Thai-French crime film “Headshot.” In a more romantic mode, Taiwan’s “Blowfish” is a minimalist look at two young lovers.

Turkey has been singled out for special attention with nine films. The highlight of this section is “Once Upon a Time in Anatolia,” an unusual crime drama/road movie that shared the Grand Jury Prize at Cannes with “The Kid With a Bike” (which is also in the festival, but without English subtitles).

In “Once Upon a Time,” the police are searching for a body in a remote area. But clues are hard to find. For those who want even more crime, there is “The Extremely Tragic Story of Celal Tan and His Family,” an intentionally absurd tale of a court professor’s attempt to cover up a murder.

The title of “Our Grand Despair,” which ran in competition at Berlin, is a bit misleading. Two bachelors have their lives thrown into turmoil when one of their female relatives has to move in with them and proves to be quite charming to both of them. Some Indonesian films can found in the Tribute to Garin Nugroho. His latest is “Blindfold,” which looks at how radical Islam affects three different people.

A world of films

A restored version of a classic of world cinema is also on the schedule. Gillo Pontecorvo’s “Battle of Algiers,” released in 1966, used documentary and newsreel techniques to tell the story of guerrilla fighters in French-controlled Algeria in the late 1950s. Recent events in the Middle East make the subject of a popular uprising relevant again. The films is part of the World Cinema Panorana section.

Politics is also featured in “This Must Be the Place,” which stars Sean Penn as a retired rock star who used to appear in goth makeup. He finds out about his late father’s experiences in the Holocaust and sets out to track the man who was responsible, an ex-Nazi who may now living in the US. The film features music by David Byrne and won the Ecuminical Jury Prize at Cannes.

Director Veit Helmer is known for his truly offbeat comedies such as “Tuvalu” and “Absurdistan.” His latest is a romantic comedy called “Baikonur,” which travels into fairy tale territory when a scavenger finds a beautiful French space tourist suffering from amnesia. Helmer is scheduled to be on hand to introduce his film. The World Panorama also includes “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” a family-based tragedy starring Tilda Swinton; a new version of “Wuthering Heights;” and a screening of the dance classic “The Red Shoes” at the film archives.

More dimensions

The section called Another Shore hosts film address alternative lifestyles. Glenn Close was nominated for an Oscar for her portrayal of a woman who lived as a man in 19th century Ireland. Close spent decades trying to bring “Albert Nobbs” to the big screen, after appearing in a stage version in 1982. While the film struck out at the Oscars, it did win five prizes at the the Irish Film and Television Awards.

This section often has some of the festival’s more offbeat films. This year “Codependent Lesbian Space Alien Seeks Same” looks likely to satisfy fans of B-grade sci fi with a romantic twist. Something with a bit more of a serious tone is French-Iranian co-production “Circumstance,” which won the audience award at Sundance as well as prizes in festivals in Rome, New York, Los Angeles and Valladolid. This love story between two women in Iran had to be filmed in Lebanon due to its subject matter.

The World in 3D section offers a few unusual items. “1920 Battle of Warsaw” — Poland’s first large-scale 3D production — re-creates the Polish-Soviet War both as a battlefield epic and as a domestic drama that delves into Warsaw’s nightclub scene. It’s one of the most expensive films ever made in Poland. Director Sławomir Idziak is scheduled to attend the festival.

For ballet lovers I would pick [Andrei] Konchalovsky’s ‘The Nutcracker in 3D,’” Sladký said. Elle Fanning, Nathan Lane and John Turturro star in this dramatic version inspired by the  ETA Hoffman story with music adapted from the Tchaikovsky ballet. The film was shot in studios in Hungary.

Horror thrillers have long been a staple of 3D. Sladký pointed to two from Hong Kong. Oxide Pang’s “Sleepwalker” ran in competition at the 2011 Tokyo International Film Festival. This production follows a woman who can’t tell if some troubling incidents in her dreams are real or not. Oxide Pang along with his twin brother Danny Pang also co-directed “The Child’s Eye.” This one finds some friends stranded in a strange hotel.

Japan has also delved into 3D. “Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai” comes from director Takashi Miike, best known for his graphically violent films “Audition” and “Ichi the Killer.” This time, the director has remade a famous story of honor and disgrace. It was the first 3D film to compete for the main prize at the Cannes film festival.

Related events

Febiofest isn’t only a film festival but a music festival as well. Bands will play on the small stage in Pizzerie Mediterane and the large stage in the lower level of the Cinestar Anděl multiplex every night of the festival for free. Some 32 bands are scheduled, followed by Djs from Radio 1.The band lineup includes Toxique, Please the Trees and Vltava.

The lower level also host stands for international food. A comic exhibition will be open throughout the festival there as well. The plaza in front of Cinestar Anděl will have metal sculptures in cast bronze and patinated iron by Ilja and Vladan Běhal. The exhibit goes by the name Forged Sculptures. The cinema’s second level will have portrait photography by Jan Zátorský, the chief photographer for Lidové noviny.

Smaller versions of the festival will run in regional cities across the Czech Republic and Slovakia thoughout the end of March and April.

March 22–30
Cinestar Anděl, Radlická 3179/1E, Prague 5
(film archives), Bartolomějská 11, Prague 1
2D films Kč 89; 3D films Kč 99;
Febiofest Jr. K
č 49 (2D) and Kč 79 (3D) ;
Ponrepo K
č 60
Music festival: free entry