Slovak Shorts: Why A Folk Star, PIG STAR, And Suicidal PANDAS Won Awards

Slovak film productions are not solely fixed on features and docs. A considerable part of national production belongs also to shorts. Although there is a small prejudice that shorts are made by students or recent students to learn the craft, the quality suggests otherwise.

Last year, several "small films" swept a fistful of international awards, a great example being the intriguing documentary Arsy-Versy, made by Miro Remo, which swooped up more than 35 awards all over the globe. It's a doc short about a man living differently than the majority of the nation. A similar destiny was shared by short animation The Last Bus by Ivana Laučíková and Martin Snopek, which stirred a bit of controversy in Slovakia over the question of whether stop-motion technique could be considered as animation. Nonetheless, the film made it to the longlist of the Academy Awards best animated shorts in 2012.

Today, several other candidates are to undergo the same path. The Star has already started the successful road being shown on international film grounds. The emerging director Andrej Kolenčík made a doc short about 55-year old welder who falls in love with acting. After several on set experiences as a child, his passion to become an actor becomes so adamant that he is actually going on an audition for a part in theatre adaptation of Plan B from Outer Space. He gets it and hits the road with other strollers in a quest to bring this jewel to several Slovak cities.

The Star offers plenty of opportunities to mock the protagonist or the jaded follow-your-dream scheme. The temptation is only shortlived, however, as the director unveils a second plane, the so-called background story. The protagonist kissed by a theatre muse is Ján Slovák, welder by day, aspiring actor by night and in between a caring husband and father trying to secure his family. His wife gave up a job in order to take care of their mentally challenged son. It's a dangerous set-up threatening to easily slide into sentimental melodrama "based on actual events." Yet Kolenčík charmingly eschews the soapy sensationalism or ridiculing the protagonist inhabiting a sober grey area. After all, The Star is made as a documentary film following a newborn star among common folk.

Another young talented filmmaker is Michael Angelov, who studied at VŠMU in Slovakia, finished his MA at Goldsmith University, and currently works in London. His short documentary Pig Star has won first prize at Espinho Festival in Portugal. The premise is quite simple: Peťko has been a swineherd for over forty years. At certain point in his life he was introduced into the world of films and ads (he had also a part in a film with Laetitia Casta which was screened at the Cannes film festival). After a few roles, he decides to retire from cameras, returning to his simple life between pigs.

The film, along with its protagonist, promotes a pastoral life similar to Kusturica´s films. Angelov follows Peťko after he has returned home and is retrospectively talking about his experience, his life philosophy and plea to never come back in front of cameras. ("From now on, I don´t want any cameras or other devil's tools.") Pig Star hides in the subtext, letting go of the consumerist life and coming back to mother nature, a tiny message being frequently coded into several films lately (e.g. Austrian Soldatte Jeannette, but also, as mentioned before, the works of Emir Kusturica).

Another Slovak short film wünderkind is Matúš Vizár. His animated short film Pandas won third prize at Cannes in Cinéfondation section. The young animator studied Bachelor´s Degree at FAMU in Prague (Czech Republic), where Pandas was his bachelor´s project. He received C for it and was not even accepted at master´s degree. Even though his teachers thought poorly of the short film, Pandas is now rocking at student film festivals and has even won the main prize at the International Animation Festival Anča Fest (Slovakia). Pandas is a satire about these fleecy animals contemplating suicide and the humans trying to save them against their will. Dark humor guaranteed. The young director and illustrator is currently preparing a new project and he revealed as one of his inspiration works of David O´Reilly.

They are the product of millions of generations before them and yet they're left all alone in the forest to fend for themselves. One day an all too active primate, the human being, finds them and they quickly become a pond in man's games.

Note 1: After watching The Star, everytime a documentary starts to fiddle with ambiguity or double-coding, one student film called Pornoromance comes to my mind. The film works at two planes at the same time, either watch as hilarious attempts of math student to make it big in porn at what he fails several times (there is this odd touch of exploitation known from reality shows) or you take the other way round as a sad story of one´s failure to achieve something he has dreamt a lot yet still rests impotent (even literally) to do so, a bitter tragedy of life asking for pity.

Note 2: Watch O´Reilly´s awe-inspiring piece The External World below.

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