What One Candidate Is Capable of Doing

The year 2013 again showed what one hit is capable of doing. Jonáš Karásek’s debut, The Candidate (Kandidát), was only premièred in October; nevertheless, in just a few weeks, with 80,234 viewers it achieved seventh rank in the list of top domestic films over the era of independent Slovakia and, thanks just to this film, the audience figures for viewing domestic films almost doubled year-on-year.

With regard to production, 2013 proved to be the most prolific year in the history of Slovakia, with 22 full-length Slovak and co-production feature films (of these only 8 were minority co-productions). The number of premières also achieved a record. Distributors released 23 full-length films in cinemas (15 feature films and 8 documentaries) and 5 blocks with 27 short films. Two further titles– Snow (Sneh) by Ivana Šebestová and Moon (Mesiac) by Ondrej Rudavský – were screened prior to full-length films. So, in the course of 2013, audiences had the chance to watch 52 domestic productions in cinemas!

Whilst only 90,830 viewers saw all the premièred domestic films in 2012, in 2013 there were 160,151 viewers, which meant a 76.32 percent year-on-year increase. The increase is also approximately the same when comparing attendances at premiered purely Slovak films and majority co-productions. In this case, 126,339 paying viewers represents a year-on-year increase of 78.65 per cent. Almost two-thirds of them came to watch The Candidate (63.51 per cent) and the three most successful domestic majority premièred titles (The Candidate, Love Me or Leave Me – Miluj ma alebo odíď, Normalization – Kauza Cervanová) attracted 81.48 per cent of audiences altogether.

After the sharp drop in the average attendance per screening of a 100 per cent Slovak film or majority co-production in 2012 (21.86 viewers), we more or less returned in 2013 to the 2011 level (37.59) when the extremely successful film Lóve (Lóve) was premièred. Thanks to Colette, last year’s interest in minority co-productions also increased by almost 70 per cent, and the average attendance per screening of minority co-productions also increased year-on-year from 12.19 to 17.80 viewers. The Candidate (52.86 viewers) and Like Never Before – Ako nikdy (52 viewers) had respectable average attendances per screening. Conversely, only an average of 0.67 viewers per screening were curious enough to watch the fourth block of Grasshoppers (Kobylky). The average admission fee per domestic film was EUR 4.29 which is almost one euro less that the total average admission fee in 2013.

The previously mentioned The Candidate by director Jonáš Karásek was the most successful domestic film in 2013, with 80,234 viewers. Only Mariana Čengel Solčanská’s Love Me or Leave Me (14,139 viewers) and the minority co-production Colette (17,279) managed to cross the 10,000 viewer threshold. Robert Kirchhoff’s documentary Normalization was also successful with 8,565 viewers, and last year it ranked fourth among the most successful Slovak films.

In 2013, only three new Slovak films were also screened on 35 mm copies (Fine, Thanks – Ďakujem, dobre, My Dog Killer – Môj pes Killer, and Miracle – Zázrak) and all the premièred titles, except for Fragile Identity (Krehká identita) by Zuzana Piussi, were available on DCP. Eight distribution companies brought the films to cinemas. Continental Film remains the largest distributor of domestic productions with five films and four blocks of films. With regard to the aforementioned figures and the success at festivals, we may consider 2013 as being a pretty successful year in Slovak cinema.

Miro Ulman


Distribution Lives of Short Films

Short films – “shorts” – have their own distribution lives; that is, if they were not prematurely buried by those who contributed to their making or who hold the rights to the films. There are increasingly more and more paths leading shorts to their audiences. So many that it seems that they are making it difficult for the producer to make a decision.

The life cycle of a completed and, inevitably, valuable film usually begins at festivals. It is a matter of mutual prestige as to at which festival the Slovak film (yes, even a short) will be premiered. This is particularly evident at the largest events, such as the International Film Festival Bratislava, Art Film Fest, Cinematik and Febiofest. The Student Film Festival Ačko or the recently revived Early Melons Festival focus on the presentation (predominantly) of short student films. Short animated films from all over the world compete at the Biennial of Animation Bratislava and at the International Animation Festival – Fest Anča. Many other festivals seek to find the most interesting of the current Slovak production depending on their focus (One World Festival, Mountains and City Festival). Thematic screenings (Cinema Bus) or film seminars (4 Elements) rather tend to revive older shorts. The Cinema Bus, which is a unique project in Slovakia, thanks to the reverse gear engaged, as it resurrects cinema technology in forsaken village community centres and transports its own audiences by bus, screened for instance the short Photographing the House Dwellers (Fotografovanie obyvateľov domu) by Dušan Trančík or the documentary debut Water and Labor (Voda a práca) by Martin Slivka. The Bažant Cinematograph buses equipped with a 35-mm projectors travel around Slovak cities and summer music festivals. Under the open skies, they bring to the general public much more ambitious short titles in advance of the full-length features being screened (last year for instance, the organisers commendably took out of the golden fund documentaries by Dušan Hanák or animated films by Jaroslava Havettová).

Cinema digitisation currently underway also, naturally, affects the possibilities of distributing short films in cinemas. Cheaper screening formats should logically lead to an increase in the number of short films shown in advance of the main film; nevertheless, distribution companies and their willingness play the decisive role. The Association of Slovak Film Clubs (ASFC) is a stable fixture (if not the last mohican) among distributors regarding the inclusion of short films prior to the main film. It is in no way coincidental that, in the past few years, the Association screened the animated films Stones (Kamene), Dust and Glitter, The Last Bus (Posledný autobus) or Snow (Sneh) and Moon (Mesiac). In 2013, the ASFC started to distribute a block of short films for the first time. In addition to the animated titles tWINs and Pandas (Pandy), the block includes the documentary The Star (Hviezda) and the feature The Exhibition (Výstava). In turn, Continental Film started a collaboration with the Academy of Music and Performing Arts – from September 2013 up to the end of the year, the distribution company presented four blocks of short student films entitled Grasshoppers (Kobylky).

The creative distribution referred to more and more frequently is also linked with the gradual change in society which has occurred in the area of the organisation of cultural life. In addition to traditional institutions, civic initiatives come intoplay with ever greater strength and even without state support. In the most developed cases, they take the form of independent cultural centres (A4 in Bratislava, Žilina – Zariečie Station, Tabačka in Košice, Klub Lúč in Trenčín, Záhrada in Banská Bystrica, Nástupište 1-12 in Topoľčany…). Happily, their number continues to grow. We cannot say that the individual films can be re-run on these premises, but the organisers do their utmost to make the screening an unforgettable experience with the personal attendance of the filmmakers. The joint performance of Soliloquy by the Debris Company and the screening of the (in this way, even re-run) short dance films VoiceS (2010) by Peter Bebjak and Yuri Korec or The Day (Deň, 2004) by director Jozef Vlk may be considered a felicitous conjunction of a short dance film with dance theatre.

In the past few years, many larger and smaller cultural or community centres, residences, galleries and cafes have been built or renovated at which even short films can be screened. These films are usually part of travelling festivals or the echoes of festivals. In such a slowly awakening environment, it makes sense to try to apply creative distribution. The new distribution company, Filmtopia, was established in 2012 with precisely this objective. To date, it only has full-length feature films in its portfolio, but in time short films could be added. Filmtopia started an interesting collaboration with Doc Alliance Films as a partner in the acquisition of Slovak films and the promotion of an established international VOD platform – the online distribution channel DAFilms.com – in Slovakia. Slovak student films by Milan Balog, Miro Remo, Mišo Hudák or Jana Mináriková have already been available for free on this portal for a number of years.

Piano has, unexpectedly, become a new player in the area of Slovak film distribution. The system of charging for (part of) the content of significant Slovak newspapers and magazines on the web, at first received by readers with displeasure, turned out to be a very well-prepared instrument for VOD distribution. It all started with the documentary by Zuzana Piussi The Grasp of the State (Od Fica do Fica) which achieved unprecedented online ratings and kicked off film distribution via Piano. The platform profiled itself as an additional distribution channel which does not generate huge profits, but which does not require producers to pay the costs of traditional distribution either. At the same time, it is an ideal way (frequently the only way) to make short films available. So far, these have been offered either some period of time after their cinema distribution (Four (Štyri) and Dust and Glitter) or even prior to it, as in the event of the adroitly timed animated film Pandas which was distributed straight after winning an award at the Cannes IFF. Piano admits that it has been the films that have contributed to a large increase in the number of its subscribers.

As for Slovak television companies, there is still no strategy for broadcasting short films. The programme on the news channel TA3 Through the Students’ Camera was a nice attempt to show short films. In 2012, documentaries by students from the Academy of Music and Performing Arts and the Academy of Arts were broadcast. Foreign television channels usually deal with the problem of varying footages of short films by showing them in blocks. Or an entire programme is devoted to students’ and short films, such as the one currently being prepared by ČT art. In this programme, films are presented and their makers introduced. A few film fans might remember a similar shortlived programme entitled DKP which was broadcast by the Slovak public TV channel.

And finally we get to those short films which have collected several major awards from prestigious festivals and are looking to get to the next base – distribution abroad. In 2011, Vanda Raýmanová’s Who’s There? (Kto je tam?, 2010) was shown in French cinema distribution in advance of the animated “full-length” film Gruffalo. By contrast, the 12-minute-long Pandas was rejected for cinema distribution in the Czech Republic as being too long.

The sales agent profession does not have much of a presence in Slovakia. Nonetheless, producer Ivana Laučíková found an able sales agent in the Polish company, New Europe Film Sales, which has already managed to sell the awarded The Last Bus to several foreign televisions, e.g. the German-French WDR/Arte, American Shorts TV, Canal+ in Spain and in Poland. Nothing remains other than to wish such films a long life.

Jana Ondiková


There Haven’t Been So Many Short Films in Cinemas in Years

Slovak filmmaker, Andrej Kolenčik, is present at this year’s Berlinale Talents. This young graduate of the Academy of Music and Performing Arts already had two films in Slovak cinemas – both shorts. In 2013, an interesting distribution experiment occurred in which two blocks of short films enlivened the programme of cinemas. They presented an unprecedented number of Slovak “shorts” to the audiences – twenty-seven of them in all. The blocks were entitled Slovak Shorts I and Grasshoppers (Kobylky).

Grasshoppers went into distribution in September 2013 and each month they presented a new collection of films by students or recent graduates of the Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Bratislava. Usually, six new titles were premiered as part of Grasshoppers on a monthly basis – feature, documentary but also animated films. One of the dramaturges of the project, Žofia Bosáková, told Film.sk that the individual blocks were put together “so as to evoke a broad range of emotions. We seek to promote subversive works which are also capable of enlarging on serious topics with a certain amount of distance or irony”. The name of the block seeks to evoke dynamics, intrepidity and healthy audacity. There were some remarkable films in the Grasshoppers blocks, nevertheless, attendances were minimal hence the project was terminated at the end of 2013. Of the ten blocks originally planned, only four were ultimately shown, with twenty-three films altogether. These included films which had achieved success at festivals (the documentary Arsy-Versy was prominent among them) and the audiences had the opportunity to see the early works of authors that they will probably hear a lot more about in the future.

As for young filmmaker, Andrej Kolenčík (he studied animated film at the Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Bratislava), he came more prominently to the attention of audiences even after his works were presented for the first time in cinemas. This occurred last autumn within the short film block entitled Slovak Shorts I. A few months later he left for the Berlin Film Festival where he was invited into the Berlinale Talents. The Association of Slovak Film Clubs (ASFC) brought Slovak Shorts I to cinemas, and Kolenčík’s documentary The Star (Hviezda, 2012) and the feature film The Exhibition (Vystava, 2012, dir. Peter Begányi, A. Kolenčík) were chosen for presentation in the block. The ASFC project consisted exclusively of films of young filmmakers which had reaped awards at festivals; the animated film by Matúš Vizár Pandas (Pandy), which won third prize in the Cinéfondation Section (students’ film competition) at the Cannes IFF, caused the greatest stir. tWINs (2011, dir. Peter Budinský) was the second animated film in the Slovak Shorts I block. Andrej Kolenčík collaborated in the making of the remaining two films in the block. The documentary The Star talks about a 55-year-old welder who always wanted to become an actor and whose dream starts to become true thanks to the theatre adaptation of the movie Plan 9 from Outer Space. In turn, the feature The Exhibition is about three middle-aged friends who surprisingly “stick up their middle finger” to unfavourable circumstances and become the winners in a lost war.

We cannot yet talk of audience success in the case of Slovak Shorts I, but this block is to continue and this year it should offer another series of short films.

Daniel Bernát