30/5 — 5/6/2024
64th International Film Festival
for Children and Youth
5. 6. 2023

Monday 5/6/2023 - Freckles from Zlín

Finally the mystery is revealed. You only really know that you have returned to Zlin when you step into the elevator of the Hotel Zlin and suddenly that magical voice resounds from the wall, and whispers the same message over and over again in your ears in this unintelligible language. In previous years I might have already mentioned this alienating experience in this blog, as it overwhelms me every morning and every night. But after so many years the puzzle is solved. I have travelled the world, slogged through jungles, crossed deserts and sailed oceans to gain a deeper understanding of the universe and to finally decipher the magic spell: “gabina jede nahoru” means “this cabin is going up”. Finally, I’m back home in Zlin.

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I’ve met three witches in this year’s festival. Like Flora, Fauna and Merryweather, the fairies from SLEEPING BEAUTY, or probably more like Sarah Jessica Parker and her friends in HOCUS POCUS (1993), they wave an enchanted web of charm and beauty around you. They crackle and rustle and babble like a fresh mountain stream. I’m talking about the delegation of BILLY BLUE, that came all the way from Quebec with this year’s opening film. I interview them on the terrace of the hotel and it’s true a spectacle: they throw compliments at each other, kindly provoke, speak honestly, they grant each other their glory… This is what happens when three women support each other and believe in the same bigger cause, that has to do with respecting and celebrating femininity. I sit and watch and admire. After the interview one of them sits down in the sun, like a tortoise harvesting energy from sunbeams. “I’m waiting for my freckles to grow,” she explains. In the perfect world, I would have nothing better to do now than sitting and watching her noble face for hours, and watch those freckles grow. 

BILLY BLUE’s presence in the festival is not an isolated case. Not a single country is better represented than Canada, or more precisely Quebec, with 10 titles in this year’s catalogue, from the exciting ADVENTURES IN THE LAND OF ASHA to the magical DOUNIA & THE PRINCESS OF ALEPPO, from the intriguing HOW TO GET YOUR PARENTS TO DIVORCE to the catchy KATAK, THE BRAVE BELUGA. Nobody knows where all these titles suddenly come from on such a massive scale. I ask my dearest friend Jo-Anne Blouin, since she has been banging on doors of Quebec producers, directors and funding bodies for 25 years, demanding more children’s film production in Quebec. If you want the mystery to be revealed, I invite you to listen to the Zlin Festival podcast, but I can tell you that 2 keywords in her story are Rock Demers (producer) and FIFEM (festival), and both have been regular guests for years in Zlin. One way or another, the conclusion could be that the Zlin Film Festival has played a substantial role in the revival of the Quebec children’s film industry.


There’s at least one film in the festival that you should definitely see in the cinemas with a live Czech audience. During the shootout – the final climax of the ice hockey story BIG DREAMS – every single kid in the cinema is shouting, cheering, jumping from excitement. The producer is smart; he films the scenery and will use the clip from now on as his strongest promotion tool. The story is set 25 years ago, in 1998 when the Czech victory in Nagano revived the optimism of an entire nation. Locals tell me that an outsider can never understand what this game has meant for the country; just like 9/11 for the rest of the world, every Czech still knows precisely where he/she was on that particular moment. The director tells me with pride that the film is exactly 98 minutes long, as an unforeseen tribute to that magical year. Coming from a non-ice-hockey-oriented country, I especially have eyes for the rural life back then. I’m sure in that world, nobody would have cared about complex issues such as “blackfacing”, which caused a small-scale scandal for the Norwegian animation JUST SUPER, which is my first and foremost reason for going to watch this film. I couldn’t even find the slightest tingle of it, neither could my colleagues. I wonder if the organisation that shamed and exposed this film is now rubbing its hands with delight – it’s not exactly that they made a positive contribution to the current social discussion. This is how watching films in the cinema always adds an extra level to the experience. Like when they putted me together in a “love seat” with a local kid, or when one international colleague (I will not reveal the name of this currently blue-haired exotic rascal) is kicking my back all the way through the credits of one screening. Or there was the magic moment when one girl in the audience stood up to tell Lotte Engels, the mesmerizing young actress from the German film WHAT THE FINN: “I admire you so much. Do you want to marry me?


The delight of being reunited with my friends in Zlin doesn’t come easily. First you have to survive the Belgian railroads (I heard the guy next to me in the train mumbling: “the place where logic ends is the place where the first Belgian railway station was built”). Then there is a flight to Vienna and a long drive to Zlin, and then finally I’m stopped at the entrance of the Congress Centre for the opening reception. The security guard is extremely alert: Thy shall not pass! Every time I make a move to the left or right, he follows me, anticipating the fact that I might plan a violent attempt to break through the cordon. It’s a strange kind of tango we are performing, that only ends when Helena, the new guest coordinator, comes to the rescue. These joyful reunions are not only about being happy to meet your friends again. It’s even more about seeing how happy they are to see you again. That is precisely why the Zlin Festival has always been the best therapy to fight depression: I don’t know a single place where people with the same honest joy show you how happy they are to see you again. I find that super empowering.







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