The Finále festival showcases the best of Czech cinema, past and present, and is one of the annual cultural highlights in Plzeň, the western Bohemian city associated more closely with Pilsner beer than movies of any kind. While the name of the festival, founded in 1968 by the state administration, seems to indicate a culmination, it is actually an acronym of sorts, derived from “FIlmy NAšich LEt” meaning “films of our age.”
The festival has always had a main competition; in 2002, organizers added a retrospective focusing on the “golden age” of Czech cinema — the 1960s — but abandoned it in 2009, replacing it with the Phenomenon of Times section (more on that later). This year, Finále’s main event is the competition of feature films, which includes works premiering between April 2010 and April 2011 with at least 20 percent of production costs coming from Czech-based companies. The winner receives the Golden Kingfisher (Zlatý ledňáček).
Among the 10 films contending this year is Jan Hřebejk’s “Innocence” (Nevinnost), a psychological drama about a doctor who is accused of sexually abusing a minor; Jan Švankmajer’s “Surviving Life” (Přežít svůj život), a psychoanalytical comedy combining animation and acting; and Petr Jákl’s “Kajínek,” a true crime story.
Several new films will also be shown out of competition. “Leaving” (Odcházení) by ex-president turned director Václav Havel looks at a politician leaving office. Tomáš Řehořek’s “One Way Ticket” (Piko) blends fictionalized scenes with archival material and first-hand testimony about the methamphetamine-like drug pervitin in the ’80s and ’90s.
Documentaries in competition include Martin Ryšavý’s poetic “Bear Islands” (Medvědí ostrovy), shot during his expedition to Siberia; Helena Třeštíková’s award-winning “Katka,” which follows 14 years of a heroin addict’s life; and Ivan Vojnár’s “Cinematherapy,” which lets several characters who answered a casting call talk about their lives on camera.
All in the family
A new section this year is family film sagas, starting with the Procházka family “This year’s choice was inspired by the memory of [dissident screenwriter] Jan Procházka, who died exactly 40 years ago due to oppression from the communist regime. [It was] an enormous loss for Czech film,” said Jan Lukeš, a program board member.
Jan’s daughter Lenka Procházková, a Czech writer and signer of Charter 77, wrote the screenplay to a TV film in this section “About Hungry Hag” (O bábě hladové), and his granddaughter Maria Procházková, an award-winning director will see her film “Shark in the Head” (Žralok v hlavě) also screened in this section. “Mahulena Procházková, his wife, and Iva Procházková, another daughter of his and also a writer, will also be present,” Lukeš said. “In the Heat of the Power” (V žáru moci – Jan Procházka), a documentary about the man and his journey, is also not to be missed.
Other sections will pay tribute to another “film family” known by an abbreviation of their last names: MICHR. Cinematographer Stanislav Milota and actress Vlasta Chramostová are celebrating 40 years of marriage, but they have been together almost for 50. Together they worked on one film only: the cult horror “The Cremator” (Spalovač mrtvol) by Juraj Herz, but the section screens other major films such as one of their so-called apartment plays “Play Macbeth,” an anti-communist film that was shot over five days and smuggled unedited out of the country, a finished version aired in Austria in 1978, but it was first shown on Czechoslovak Television in 1991.
“When they were both excluded from Czech film, they made a living for example by selling lamps that they made from waste glass, which led to a saying “S firmou MICHR, licht ist sicher” (With the MICHR company, light is a sure thing),” Lukeš said. A book with the same title will be presented for the first time at the festival, followed by a discussion forum with the couple.
There are three other sections paying tribute to icons of Czech film. One is dedicated to Iva Janžurová, an actress that starred in over 60 films and numerous plays since she begun her active carrier in mid-60s.
The Wonderful Movie Cranks section will, as usual, screen works by filmmakers who are celebrating, or would have celebrated, a significant birthday this year. Otakar Vávra’s “Romance for Bugle” (Romance pro křídlovku) is based on a Romeo and Juliet-themed lyrical poem. Vávra was born in 1911. Gustav Machatý’s “Ecstasy” (Extáze) sparked a lot of controversy due to its nude scene with a young Hedy Lamarr. Machatý was born in 1901.
This year, the Phenomenon of Times section (introduced in 2010, when it focused on underground film) looks at the traditional Czech music festival of folk and country music, Porta. Founded in 1967, the annual festival had over 30,000 visitors at its prime and was sometimes called the Czech Woodstock.
The traditional open-air screenings will take place at U Branky in the city center and will show films of perhaps the most famous film duo, Zdeněk Svěrák and Ladislav Smoljak. Smoljak passed away in June last year.
The festival opened April 17 with the pre-premiere of “Czech Made Man,” starring Jan Budař in a rags-to-riches story based on true events about a take on “entrepreneurship” by one Czech ordinary man, and will close April 23 at the Peklo cultural center.
Long but broken history
The original aim of the “FIlmy NAšich LEt” festival was to show “the most valuable film works of the Czech and Slovak production” and the criteria was “social involvement in the widest and most humane meaning of the word … and the search for new qualities and possibilities for film language.” All screenings were at the Moskva cinema — later known as Elektra — then the biggest cinema in Czechoslovakia with 1,100 seats.
After only three years, the festival was shut down in the early ’70s due to the “normalization” that followed the Soviet-led invasion. It restarted in 1990, after the fall of communism, in the Elektra cinema until it closed in 2007.
“The private owner of the Elektra cinema decided to change it into a shopping venue, and the festival had no choice but to find another venue,” festival coordinator Eva Košařová told Czech Position. “Luckily, the new venue at Měšťanská beseda is a perfect replacement, and the guests — especially the ones coming from abroad — totally love the renovated Art Nouveau building.”
Since then, Měšťanská beseda is where most screenings, meetings with filmmakers and some concerts take place.
But when it comes to program changes, 2002 was when the festival introduced new sections that vary each year, with only some constant ones. Since then, the festival program has included a competition of documentary films completed in the past year, tributes to Czech film icons, concerts, workshops, and discussion forums with guests.
“Until two years ago, the festival focused on the ’60s, and mapped every year of this golden era of Czech film in a section called Czech Cinema’s Most Turbulent Decade,” Košařová said. “After we had covered [the entire decade], we added a section called Phenomenon of Times, which looks as Czech film and social life in the ’70s and ’80s.” she added.
To April 23
Měšťanská beseda and other venues
Plzeň, West Bohemia
Hana Gomoláková is a Prague-based freelance writer