(11/08/2009) – The neighbouring Slovak Spa Towns of Trencín and Trencianske Teplice played host to the Art Film Festival for the 17th time at the end of June. The festival has grown steadily over the years and saw record attendances this time despite not having much of its carefully spent budget available for advertising and promotion. Proof of the new enthusiasm was evident in the full screenings, even during the daytime, and program director Peter Nagel can be attributed credit for much of this. The festival vice-president, Peter Hledík had predicted this growth when the festival started to co-operate with Ján Kovácik, the festival producer, five years ago.

The festival sections – International Competition of Feature Films, International Competition of Short Films, European Corner, All Around the World, Best of Comedy, Cult!, Love & Anarchy, Dancing 80´s, Late Night Show and Slovak Season had more than just something for every film aficionado who made the pilgrimage to this somewhat remote area. In the Slovak Season section, the local audience were particularly catered for with 13 new, very different, films from the first half of 2009. The encouraging news for the local film industry is that production has greatly increased compared with the last few years. Two of the highlights were Vladimir Balko’s Soul at Peace and Miloslav Luther’s Mosquitoes’ Tango, while the premiere of the short x=x+1 by Juraj Krasnohorsky became a word of mouth frenzy resulting in a sell-out screening.

The competition program consisted of 15 features and 46 short films, both having an International Jury. The strong feature program – a varied selection from different parts of the world – included Buick Riviera, a co-production concerning the Bosnian conflict; Treeless Mountain from South Korea; and the US-Mexican co-production Without Name, which was one of the big noises in this year’s Sundance festival. The festival’s main prize, the Blue Angel Award for best film, went to Hunger, directed by former Turner Prize winner Steve McQueen. The film portrays the events leading up to and including the hunger strike by IRA volunteer Bobby Sands at the height of the Northern Ireland troubles in 1981. The portrayal of Bobby Sands by actor Michael Fassbender won the Award at Trencín for Best Male Actor. The other prize in the main competition went to the Australian film Samson and Delilah with Warwick Thornton winning the best director award. His film follows two teenagers who suddenly have to cope with a tragedy and survive outside of their community.

The short film prize of any festival is often a difficult decision due to the number of films. Here, the Short Film Jury awarded Everyday Everyday by Malaysian director Chui Mui Tan (who also won the festival’s On the Road Award), the motivation for awarding the film an acknowledgement of the director’s approach to making a very simple story about human relationships. The film concerns a young woman who gives up her job to change the monotonous direction of her life, with a tenuous plan to live in Peru and start writing. The film questions whether choosing a change of lifestyle is necessarily for the best, not least for someone in a relationship.

An honorary tribute award went to Peter Weigl, the Czech librettist and dramaturgist, famous for films about music for TV and cinema, including Labyrinth of Power(1969). The Actor’s Mission award went to Jaromir Hanzlik, a renowned Czech actor with a career spanning 40 years, and the globally renowned British actor Jeremy Irons (pictured), who was also praised at the festival for his friendliness and humbleness. The Golden Camera award went to the world famous Czech director Vera Chytilova who was the first lady of the Czech New Wave with her breakthrough film Daisies in 1966 and Ettore Scola, the Italian director and screenwriter who, like Chytilova, has had a directorial career spanning more than 40 years. For many, such awards may conjure a pomposity akin to lavish ceremonies like the Oscars or BAFTAs. However, nowhere is a tribute more apparent than a film festival, a chance to honour those who may escape the attention of the wider world. It seems fitting that an unassuming place should honour the unassuming, a place where kindred spirits meet and greet to share the wonders of cinema culture.