FNE at Zlin’s 50th Anniversary: Czech and Slovak films take center stage

By Cathy Meils

For Zlin (www.zlinfest.cz) festival director Petr Koliha, deciding how to mark the 50th anniversary of the Zlin festival of films for children and youth was an easy decision. At least one year earlier he told FNE it was clear that the festival would celebrate the vibrant Czech and Slovak tradition of children's films.

The sheer abundance of choice is apparent in a glance of the festival programme. There are 27 children's films in the "Day of Czech and Slovak Cinema - Zlin is 50" stretching across five decades

"Czechoslovakia was a true powerhouse prior to 1989 in the field of children's films. Especially the Zlín Film Studio became a household name mainly for its creation for children and youth. During the 50th anniversary of the creation of the festival here in Zlín, we will be remembering through retrospectives all Czechoslovak feature films for children and youth that have been awarded since 1961," Koliha told FNE.

Another 79 films will screen in the Informative Section on Czech and Slovak Cinema that goes back to 1949. Even with that expansive a showing, fans of Czech and Slovak films are likely to notice some favorites that are missing from the list. That still leaves a rich array of films, including several masterpieces from Karel Zeman whose centennial this year has brought numerous tributes.

"A very important part of the program of course is the 100th anniversary of the birth of the legend, Karel Zeman. This genius of a director left his indelible mark in Zlín through his creation. He spent his entire professional life right here in the Zlín Film Studio. We will remember the creation of Karel Zeman through screenings of his films, exhibits, discussions with actors and by the unveiling of his memorial bust," Koliha said.

The Zlin film studio, which remains active to this day with a focus on locally produced features, fairy tales, and animated films, has long been a powerhouse in the field of children's films. Some of the most famous names in the local film industry were connected with the studio.

"This year we're also honoring Elmar Klos, one of the founders of the film studio in Zlín. Klos would be one hundred years old if he were alive today. And of course we couldn't forget the 115th anniversary of the birth of Hermína Týrlová - a world-renowned pioneer of Czech animated and puppet film. She also spent her working life up on Zlín Film Studio's ‘hill of dreams'," Koliha added.

Festival visitors should be on the lookout for more Czech and Slovak films scattered throughout other sections of the festival. "In several program blocks we will be presenting in part the most famous and beloved children's films, and in part those films that have been 'unjustifiably forgotten.' We will also focus on the classic Czechoslovak genre - the fairy tale," Koliha concluded.

The popularity of the genre has remained a constant in the Czech Republic, with 2009's "Hell With a Princess (www.bioillusion.com) taking the third spot at the Czech box office at 247,000 admissions during the first half of the year. Child friendly Czech films are likely to fare as well in 2010, with Jan Sverak's recently released Kuky's Return (www.sverak.cz) debuting at the top of the charts in mid-May.