Tuesday 6/6/2023 - Pizza Anti-Vegetariana
Imagine you would walk around in your house and suddenly discover a door that you have never seen before and when you walk through it, you suddenly find yourself in a man cave with all possible utilities. That is exactly what happens to me today. After (probably) more than 100 nights in Hotel Zlin, I finally find my way to the bowling hall. I had seen the signpost before, but it never occurred to me to follow it, all the way to the cosy log cabin where a predominantly male clientele enjoys a game of bowling and darts. More than decent pizzas and cocktails are served here. When I introduce the Canadian WHERE RABBITS COME FROM delegation to the place, they are over the moon. Probably it's the framed hockey jerseys on the wall that make them feel like fishes to water.
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One dish on the menu catches my attention. The Czech Republic is not exactly a vegetarian Walhalla but this Pizza Anti-Vegetariana is out of my league – it contains a selection of all the meat you can find around the house, tossed together on a pizza crust. I saw my Polish colleagues staring into their plates with slightly indignant faces at the Legenda Irish Pub. (However, I am a fan of their Pasta Fettuccine!) This is where festival regulars hang out all night. The downside of a green city like Zlin is that birds start chirping so early; their cheerful activity burdens late visitors with a guilt complex when leaving the bar at dawn.
I catch the rumour once too often that people find it frightening to fight their way into our group of festival habitués. That can never be the intention. Over the years, a close-knit clique of festival guests has grown, but everyone is always happy to welcome new faces around the table. Like Calliope from Athens or Kärt from Tallinn. Her humour is so sharp you could cut yourself. Considering the number of times I burst out laughing, I must be bleeding from countless wounds.
I am also discovering new personalities in the festival team. This year, another chapter is added to the great Zlin address book. Suzanne programmes the animation section and invites me for coffee on Sunday morning. Together we watch the Zlin marathon pass by. Suzanne was once on the verge of a professional sports career, but nowadays Jaroslava calls her "a gift from God", always quietly in the background, delivering outstanding work. Then there is my new collaboration with Petra Pfifkova - when I tell her that her image has shifted from 'serious' to 'sexy' in one year, her son corrects, "You mean 'charismatic’!” For five years Martin has been working as festival photographer; now he’s studying photography in Prague and earns extra money in the winter season as ski instructor. He tells about the glory years when the rich Russian elite descended on the Alps. "I never had to buy new ski equipment. I collected whatever they dropped in the snow and were too lazy to pick up." New delegation guide Michal, 18 years old, enjoys spending his evenings with us and helps me scheduling my interviews.
This is what takes up most of my time: gathering content for the festival podcast, I do daily interviews with juries and delegations and host guests in our TV studio - Club Phoenix may sound like a place where women pole dance, but it's actually the name of our brand new studio: "Ahoi, welcome to our Zlin festival bubbles". Rowan Atkinson once said that humour is largely defined by the comedic sound of certain words, and 'bubbles' must have been at the top of his list. "As Diana Ross once sang, 'I want Bubbles'... Here's to you, Diana!" Some guests contribute with extra glitz and glamour: I almost ask to have Filip Posivac removed from the studio because his shirt is flashier than mine, the glitter on Julie Madsen's blouse is a test for the lighting system, but nothing sparkles as much as Lotte Engels' eyes. I apologise that I will not look at her during the interview because I am guaranteed to be speechless for 10 minutes. During the interview with the Belgian Domien Huyghe (“We are having Bubbles from Brussels today; allow me to be your own personal Jean-Claude Van Damme") I recall scenes from his previous visit to Zlin, but… "If you tell my stories, I'll tell yours!” My lips are sealed! Like the West Ham fans sing every time their team goes on the pitch: "We'll be forever blowing bubbles. Pretty festival bubbles in the air..."
During the party at the film studios, guests roast sausages over the fire while a local mariachi band provides entertainment. Their repertoire is limited; hence suddenly the Christmas song 'Feliz Navidad' reverberates over the hill, firing up a vocal duel on the bus ride back. On my one hand: an international group of guests and, on the other hand a bunch of Czech actors, trying to outdo each other with, respectively, the global Christmas repertoire versus widely known (presumably bawdy versions of) local standards. I am far from surprised to see Nils Andersson conjuring one vocal cracker after another out of his top hat.
During the international gathering of festivals, we watch the pitch of 5 Czech short films-in-the-making. Everyone is putting their money on HUMANITY, a hilarious stop-motion about life's little annoyances that escalates into a splatter scene in which a cinema visitor takes revenge on noisy popcorn nibblers with an axe. Our Ukrainian colleague Vova has asked me by email to convey his greetings to all present. When pictures are projected of his last festival edition, held in shelters and metro corridors, it leaves many of us breathless.