Slovak films seek Pusan notice

Hard road for filmmakers from small nation

The film industry in the Slovak Republic has had to fight to get noticed.

Hemmed in by larger neighbors with longer cinematic traditions, it is only recently that Slovak film has come in to its own. But as the two Slovak titles screening in Pusan’s World Cinema section show, Slovak cinema has arrived.

Both come with an impressive pedigree. Jirí Chlumsky’s “Broken Promise,” a WWII period film about a young soccer-loving Jewish boy who becomes a resistance fighter after Germany invades Slovakia, won the grand prize at this year’s L.A. Jewish Film Festival and has drawn comparisons to Roman Polanski’s “The Pianist” (2002).

It’s also the Slovak Republic’s official entry for the 2010 Foreign Language Oscar. Picture This! will release “Broken Promises” stateside and sales agent Film Europe has already closed on several territories including Poland (Pol-Media) and Japan (Aya Pro).

Mira Fornay’s debut feature “Foxes” premiered at Critics’ Week in Venice, the first Slovak feature to bow there in 25 years. Set among Slovak immigrants in Dublin, Ireland, the film is the story of two sisters who share a dark secret.

Fornay tapped Irish and Czech funding sources to make the feature, typical for the new breed of Slovak directors who are being more aggressive and cosmopolitan in their efforts to get films made. For the ambitious “Broken Promise,” Chlumsky even approached U.S. nonprofit the Jewish Partisans Educational Foundation for funding. It would have been nearly impossible to secure the film’s $2.4 million budget from national sources alone. The Slovak Republic has only 5.4 million inhabitants and state financing sources are limited, though a new film subsidy law, past late last year, is expected to give the industry a boost.

Slovak filmmakers are only starting to break through on the international festival circuit, but the foundations for a healthy future have already been laid. Local films took a 16% share of the boxoffice in the territory last year. Not quite the level of France or Sweden but a clear sign that Slovak cinema is here to stay.