Zlín film fest brings Irish cinema to children

This year’s Zlín film festival for children and youth will showcase gems from the Emerald Isle and brighten the streets with Irish culture

One of the biggest and oldest film festivals in the world — and the only one for children in the Czech Republic — will launch its 52nd annual showcase of films for children and youth in the east Moravian town Zlín this Sunday.

Apart from the traditional competition, tributes and panorama sections, the festival has a treat for lovers of the Irish cinema. “After last year’s success with Days of Italian Cinema, we decided to travel the opposite direction in Europe this year. Ireland and Irish culture are very popular with young Czech audiences, so we want to introduce Irish cinema in all its strength,” Petr Koliha, the festival’s artistic director, told Czech Position.

The focus section on the country’s films is so extensive that it contains 36 films divided into five different subsections: Irish film for children and youth; Irish literature in film; focus on two key artists Neil Jordan and Jim Sheridan; Contemporary Irish cinema, and Irish Choice — a selection of most popular films.

Selected from this category, Koliha recommends the international premiere of “Eliot & Me,” a young girl-and-a dog tale by Fintan Connolly that will launch the festival. But it is a Jordan’s Oscar-winning film “The Crying Game,” the tale of a British soldier and his kidnapper, that the audience should mark in their must-see schedules as “Breakfast on Pluto,” a story of a young man (played by the brilliant Cillian Murphy) who, in search of his mother and himself, sets off on mesmerizing trip to London.

This section really has a lot to offer and one of true treasures that the Czech young cinema lovers won’t have a chance to see elsewhere is another Oscar nominee from 2009 – an animated feature “The Secret of Kells,” creating a fictitious story of how the Book of Kells – an illuminated Gospel book – was created by Celtic monks in the 8th century.

The Zlín festival will also screen the touching musical “Once,” a story connecting two lost souls in Dublin, for which the film’s main protagonists, musicians and former lovers Markéta Irglová and Glen Hansard, won an Oscar for the best original song in 2007.

Films aren’t the only thing Irish that will be going on in Zlín next week, events a-plenty will take place all around the town. “There will also be Irish music dancing, literature, and an interesting photo exhibit,” says Koliha.

In the Panorama section, look for the best work made for children in the past year and namely for an enjoyable treat combining animation and imagination: “Monster in Paris,” a tale of a flea enlarged to a size of a person after two boys’ experiment goes wrong. It is a bit of a brain-scratcher and also beautiful to look at, using Pixar-like characters and movement.

Quite an opposite experience and a film that reminds of storytelling used in the recent documentary “Crulic” by Anca Damian, depicting how bureaucracy destroyed a man’s life, is a promising documentary about Petr Ginz, a Terezín ghetto magazine editor, artist and writer, who could have become one of the world’s extraordinary artists if he wasn’t killed at the age of 16 in Auschwitz. This documentary plays with Petr’s pictures and texts in a visually touching way combined with an imaginary portrayal of what his days must have looked like in the ghetto.

Well-picked documentaries portraying various struggles of children and youth are also up for the pick, including Ashley Sabin’s “Girl Model” following the way young models are taken from remote parts of Russia to modeling agencies around the world, exploited, and – if lucky – returned home with tremendous debts. Linda Jablonská’s new documentary “The Institute” (Ústav), on the other hand, follows a life in a day at the youth detention center.

Like every year, a jury will pick the best films for children and youth in two separate categories. Petr Oukropec’s magical directorial debut “Blue Tiger,” which tells a story of efforts to save an old botanical garden scheduled to be destroyed to give way to new skyscrapers, features real tigers and beautiful animation and is the only Czech representative in the children film competition. Irish director Martin Duffy, Czech director Karel Janák and Slovak actress Soňa Valentová will sit in the main jury.

Irish writer Patrick McCabe will also be a guest at the festival and juror of animated films while his wife drew one of the film clapperboards offered at the auction during the festival. “I would also like to mention another guest, the young British rising star Rachel Hurd-Wood, who starred, for example in ‘Perfume: The Story of a Murderer,’ ‘Dorian Gray,’ and ‘Hideways’,” Koliha said.

Tribute will be paid to two great artists: Jiří Trnka, a Czech illustrator, artist and director of children films. Trnka also founded the Prague studio for animated film Bratři v triku (Brothers in tee-shirts), created original and unforgettable style in films for children which included detailed puppetry and complicated sets. He would have been 100 years old this year and the festival will show his most praised films including “Old Czech Legends” and “The Good Soldier Schweik.” Another tribute to be paid will go to Zdeněk Liška, a Czech composer tightly connected with Zlín, whose music appeared in some 30 films in the 1950s through the early 1980s.

During the closing ceremony a life-time achievement award will be given to Czech actor Jiří Lábus, who has portrayed various characters in dozens of Czech children films – perhaps the best know character is the good-for-nothing wizard Rumburak in the popular series “Arabela,” which connected the ordinary world of people with the world of fairy tales.

Over 60 accompanying events including workshops, concerts, exhibits and the annual auction of film clapperboards will be going on all around Zlín next week providing plenty of opportunities to kick back and enjoy the town outside of the movie theaters.

“For kids, there are plenty workshops and projects to take part on, such as masking workshop, a kids’ television and art studios, reading sessions and even a chance to participate on charity events such as ‘Adopt a doll and save a child’ with UNICEF. A traditional ‘Train of Smiles’ will also bring handicapped children to enjoy the atmosphere,” says Koliha.

And for those still on the lookout for film outside, the open-air cinema’s luring the young adult audience to the park next to the new congress centre building every day from 10:00 p.m.

The festival will showcase a total of 248 films from 49 countries from all over the world including 115 premieres and 13 international premieres, 86 films will be screened in the competition sections.

52nd International Film Festival for Children and Youth
May 27 – June 3

— Hana Gomoláková is a Prague-based freelance journalist