Getting together through the big screen

Uniting Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic can be done in a lot of ways. Doing this by organizing cultural events is really popular. One of the more successful of these types of events is the Cinema on the Border festival in the Czech Polish border town of Ceský Tešín/Ciezyn.

by Bart de Bruijn

On the border between Poland and the Czech Republic lies a town that’s apart, but also very much one. It’s Czech name is Český Těšín, the Polish one is Cieszyn. Like, for example, the Polish town of Bielsko-Biała (video)  the town is divided by a river. In this case it’s the Olza. Throughout history both sides of the city have belonged to many different countries like most river-divided cities. Now it seems to be settled and the town is united.

The border lies in the middle of the bridge over the Olza. credit: Bart de Bruijn

To spread this great cooperation to the rest of the border region the townspeople started to organize a film festival, Cinema on the Border. To unite not just Poland and the Czech Republic, but also Slovakia and Hungary the festival is now showing movies from all four of these countries.

The festivals financial director Petra Slovácek Rypienová is working at the festival since the start in 1999. Now at the thirteenth edition the festival almost looks to be too big of a success.

“With 1050 visitors, a hundred movies in six days and three venues we seem to be at our max. It’s really difficult to expand right now.”

Working together

The organizers of the festival are Czechs and Poles. The committee consists of six members. One director, one financial director, two people responsible for the program and two coordinators (one from the Czech Republic and one from Poland). It’s no full-time job. The director is a teacher and Petra is a stay at home mum with two kids.

During the festival the number of workers increase. Twenty technicians join to operate the film projectors and prepare the venues for the film showings. Also seventy volunteers join to make sure the festival is running smoothly.

Language is not an issue

The poster of 2011 (left) and 2010. credit: Bart de Bruijn

To make sure everybody can understand them most of the movies are translated. Between Czech, Polish and Slovak it’s not that hard, because the language is pretty common.

“We put a lot more effort in translating movies each year. In the beginning it was just a man reading the translations out loud during the film. Now we have subtitles,” said Rypienová.

Hungarian is very different and that’s why translating is more expensive, so Cinema on the Border never really does that.

It doesn’t lead to big problems, because Hungarians don’t visit the festival that much. Most of all because of the language difference, but also the big distance to Ceský Tešín. The biggest group of visitors are Polish students. Petra thinks they form 70% of the total. “Polish students are accustomed to traveling to festivals, the other countries have to learn that.”

Expansion leads to extra funds

When the festival started in 1999 it was just a cooperation between the Czechs and the Slovaks. Only twelve films were shown in four days. After a while Poland joined in and finally Hungary aswell. This completed the so-called Visegrad Four, or V4, the name the four countries chose to name their cooperation on a political level.

By involving all the four countries the festival qualified for the International Visegrad Fund. A fund that gives money to cross-border projects, cultural, but also educational and in other ways.  Almost 50% of the money is going into cultural project each year.

Total per year keeps on rising. 4,8M in 2008 5,2M in 2009. Evenly devided amoing the 4 countries, some aswell to Belarus, Serbia and Ukraine (2000-2009). Each country pays the same amount 1,25M in 2009, 1,5M in 2010.

In 2009 Cinema on the Border got 17.000 euro, which is 30% of the total budget. The rest of the money is coming from the EU and the ministries of culture of all four countries. Without the Visegrad Fund no Cinema on the Border it seems.

Perfect example

Jiri Sykora works in the head office of the Visegrad fund as Public Relations Coordinator thinks the festival is a nice example of a good cross-border project:

Each year a book about the fesitval is issued. credit: Bart de Bruijn

“As for the Cinema on the Border, I think it is a very common type of projects that take place in border areas but what makes it special is the fact that the Silesian region is so very specific in the Visegrad region: people are basically bilingual and it is interconnected as most businesses reach across the border.”

This year a new element is added to the Cinema on the Border program. There will be a workshop for young film directors or students aspiring to become a film director. Three to four participants of each of the Visegrad countries will attend and will learn from each other and more experienced directors.

Cinema on the Border is pretty much at its maximum. Also because it’s really hard to expand according to Petra: “We could attract more visitors, for instance by inviting more famous movie directors, but it would be hard to manage. We would need to show more films, so we would need more than just these three venues. Also we would need to find more accommodations and find extra volunteers to help us.”

The trailer of 2011

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