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Karel Zeman behind a camera filming.
  • Zemania at the 3rd CaSFFA

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    Posted on: 16/09/2015

    The Czech & Slovak Film Festival of Australia, or “CaSFFA”, turns three in 2015!

    Each year CaSFFA has organised its programming around a theme. In 2013, the inaugural festival was themed "togetherness". 2014's festival acknowledged the 25th anniversary of Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution with a theme of "resistance". This year's theme is one of "projection", a wonderfully loaded term that the CaSFFA team, under Artistic Director Cerise Howard, saw as full of rich pickings!

    Aside from referencing the fundamentally cinematic act of throwing images onto a screen, "projection" allows us to celebrate all of yesterday’s tomorrows, today, and explore in depth the work of a pioneering Czech special effects wizard, the exemplary retro-futurist, Karel Zeman.

    Karel Zeman Dinos

    While CaSFFA is presenting a retrospective in partnership with the Melbourne Cinémathèque this September which includes four of Zeman's most adored, and influential, feature films, it is not CaSFFA's way to merely tease out the resonances of its chosen theme on-screen.

    Trailer for An Invention for Destruction (Karel Zeman, 1958), screening on Wednesday 23 September in a new digital restoration as part of “Restoring The World of Fantasy”, a joint project of the Karel Zeman Museum, The Czech Film Foundation and Czech Television.

    Beginning with its second festival, CaSFFA has sought to enrich its offerings by offering visual arts exhibitions in dialogue with its film program. This was perhaps inevitable when a festival team, such as CaSFFA's, is staffed entirely by fanatical volunteers, many of whom are artists themselves...

    Moreover, under the curatorship of CaSFFA's Carmen Reid, this outlook allows local artists – including some of Czech or Slovak heritage – a novel and productive new avenue for creation and exhibition. All of the CaSFFA team take pride in bridging the geographical divide between Melbourne and the Central European nations whose vibrant film culture CaSFFA is so dedicated to championing.

    This year, CaSFFA is utilising exhibition spaces that could scarcely be any closer to its screening halls; artworks are being placed around ACMI itself! In particular, and without precedent, CaSFFA is delighted to be let loose upon ACMI's Australian Mediatheque. From 16 to 23 September, the “Mteq” will be transformed nightly into a Karel Zeman-esque wunderkammer inhabited by evocative objects and imagery, dioramas, props, lo-fi projections and viewing devices – objects such as Lucia Mocnay's spacefaring hare, The Voyager, below.

    The Voyager 2015

     “The Voyager”, 2015. Artist: Lucia Mocnay

    Furthermore, the Mteq's touchscreens will be re-programmed to showcase a CaSFFA program of new Czech and Slovak short films, short works by several of this year's exhibiting artists, and as many as 15 short videos produced by Prague's innovative new Karel Zeman Museum, nowadays a highlight of any cinephile's trip to the storied Czech capital. These videos provide fascinating insights into Zeman's in-camera special effects practices, highlighting his great ingenuity in creating magical worlds without recourse to the present day's digital technologies.

    CaSFFA is keen to promote links between its film program and local artists on the big-screen too. Hence, this year's Karel Zeman retrospective includes Anthony Lucas's glorious, Oscar-nominated silhouette animation The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello, which shows its Melbourne-based maker to be, like Zeman, heavily inspired by the works of Jules Verne – a Vernian fellow traveler indeed!

    The Mysterious Geographic E

    The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello

    CaSFFA are tremendously excited that Anthony Lucas will be present on Wednesday 23 September to introduce his film and to talk about what Karel Zeman means to him, and to his own substantial and celebrated body of work.

    One of the other ways CaSFFA engages local artists to address its thematics is in the production of its trailer each year. For the second year running, Dean McInerney has produced a dynamic, wildly imaginative trailer for CaSFFA. This year's projection-themed trailer pays glorious homage to, who else, but Karel Zeman.

    Dean McInerney's trailer for the 2015 Czech & Slovak Film Festival of Australia

    For those for whom too much Karel Zeman can never be enough, further off-screen enrichment of the program can be found in the Cteq Annotations published in locally-based film journal of note, Senses of Cinema.

    American film academic Wheeler Winston Dixon has written on An Invention for Destruction, while CaSFFA's Artistic Director Cerise Howard has written on both A Jester's Tale (screening Wednesday 23 September) and The Outrageous Baron Munchausen (Wednesday 16 September), which later inspired Terry Gilliam to create his own later (and lesser!) adaptation of Gottfried August Bürger’s book.

    At CaSFFA, audiences can even get Gilliam's own thoughts on the legacy of the great Karel Zeman in the documentary Film Adventurer Karel Zeman, screening on Tuesday 22 September.

    It is in this rich tapestry of connections between events on-screen and off that CaSFFA seeks to make its mark. It's a mighty congested film festival landscape out there, in film-mad Melbourne, but this is how our fledgling film festival looks to make itself a key film cultural event hereabouts... hopefully for many more moons to come!

    Baron Munchausen

    The Outrageous Baron Munchausen

    The Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia runs from the 16 September to 26 September. A free program of short films - Spirit of Adventure - is available to view in our Australian Mediatheque.

    - Cerise Howard is the Artistic Director of the Czech and Slovak Film Festival of Australia and a committee member of the Melbourne Cinémathèque and tilde: Melbourne's Trans & Gender Diverse Film Festival. A freelance writer and peregrine film critic, she can regularly be heard on Plato’s Cave and SmartArts on Melbourne radio station 3RRR.

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