Czech Youth Film Fest Shines

By Robert Marich
  June 8, 2012 Zlin, Czech Republic—The 52nd Zlin International Film Festival for Children and Youth, which I attended, provided a window into a prolific vein of youth-oriented movies from outside of the Hollywood system. This was a children’s fest that draws 100,000 visitors without help from Mickey Mouse or Shrek.
   Hundreds of films from dozens of countries are screened—mainly from Europe but also elsewhere including Japan, Chile, Cuba, Israel, and Iran. Many receive theatrical release in their home country. A festival attendee from Norway told me that his Scandinavian country has government-financed arts programs that support theaters, which screen a wide array of films.
   The Zlin (pronounced zsahLEAN as one syllable) fest winner is “Death of a Superhero,” which is a German-Irish co-production. The English-language drama, which is live-action but with elements of animation, is about a dying 15-year-old who immerses in his own drawings of a superhero and is obsessed with having sex before his cancer kills him. Variety gave the drama a good review from appearances in other festivals, including the Tribeca Film Festival in New York.
   Many of the films at Zlin are financed by government arts programs so most have a pro-social orientation, though not necessarily heavy handed. They range from scripted live action dramas and comedies to animation to documentary. Some have an edge of controversy such as a documentary “Maori Boy Genius” about ethnic natives of New Zealand—the Maori people. This documentary is subtly critical of the New Zealand government dominated by European settlers and yet was financed by the government under an arts support program.
   With the high cost of theatrical release in the United States, it seems to me that most of the screened films would not be good financial prospects for U.S. cinema release—which really is just 500 titles a year playing nationally. But many Zlin fest titles would be great for cable TV channels.
   The Zlin fest was a first class event in every way that was well funded and promoted. The town of Zlin was plastered with posters and promotions (some huge banners hung on the sides of tall building, stretching for several floors), screenings took place in modern town theaters and an excellent convention center was a hub for events, which included announcing winners in an awards ceremony that eventually was telecast on public Czech Television.
   Like most festivals, Zlin had a lineup of corporate sponsors that include Czech car company Skoda (now owned by Volkswagen), DHL shipping, and a host of arts and governmental organizations.
   The town of Zlin is located in Eastern Czech Republic—which is opposite the country from the capital city of Prague—and has an Alpine flavor. The author spoke at a side event to the festival about marketing films from the Hollywood perspective and the constant tension between art (often favored by continental Europeans) and commerce (the Hollywood approach).

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