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GOCRITIC! Karlovy Vary 2019

GoCritic! Interview: Vladimír Smutný • Recepient of the KVIFF President Award

“Sometimes I wonder whether things have got better or worse”

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GoCritic! Interview: Vladimír Smutný   • Recepient of the KVIFF President Award
Vladimír Smutný before the screening of The End of Berhof at Karlovy Vary's Municipal Theatre

Vladimír Smutný is one of the leading Czech directors of photography, and has worked on some of the most acclaimed films from his country, such as Tobruk (2008), Dark Blue World (2001), and the Oscar-winning Kolya (1996). Now 77, he can boast seven Czech Lions for cinematography – the country’s highest award for filmmaking – and has received the Festival President’s award at Karlovy Vary, where GoCritic! spoke to him.

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I begin by asking Smutný about the award and where it stands in his career. “I don’t know yet. It’s an award I couldn’t ever receive as a cameraman – there are no DOP awards here any more, so to a certain extent it did surprise me.”

He reflects on the evolution of Czech cinema over the past few decades and how he himself perceives the changes, of which he has been part: “Sometimes I wonder whether things have got better or worse. I’ve shot over a half of my films on film and then, from around 2010, I shot on digital. In the old days, the cameraman had to hold the camera, while now the camera ‘holds’ the cameraman. And I feet really sorry that the visual memory of the printed picture, which was universally known and spread could disappear along with the specific phenomenon of a movie theatre.”

I ask how political changes have affected the Czech film industry in recent decades, and refer to a statement made by director Tomáš Vorel earlier during the Karlovy Vary festival when introducing his 1990 film Smoke, when he said that the privatisation of Czech film was one of the greatest mistakes, as it put filmmakers into a “horrible schizophrenia.”

“Look, I’m a director of photography and this is something the director needs to deal with. The revolution caught filmmakers totally unprepared, but I think it would have happened the same way anyway,” says Smutný. “I do feel a bit sorry when I see how well it works in France, where they have financial support for debuts and pensions for retired filmmakers, but for them it was a continuous process enforced with their tradition, while here it was a bit wilder and more sudden.”

But as a seasoned and respected professor at FAMU, Smutný also has an unquestionable insight into the next generation of filmmakers, and probably a general idea what the future of Czech film might be like. “As far as cinematography is concerned, I think there are a lot of talents out there and it’s just a matter of time before they make their mark. Luckily, I see things the same way my students do, so I’m pretty positive about the future. And unlike me, the next generation grew up with digital and not printed film, so I wonder what that will bring. I don’t want to predict, but something is definitely changing.”

Did he ever want to direct his own films? “It probably wouldn’t be a problem for me; I know I could make one film, but I don’t know if I could do the one after. It can be really hard for a director to make a film – you need to be a runner who can endure the process and who won’t give up over the years. The cooperation fulfils me and whether you or the director has a better vision, the best vision always wins, because the director always wants to tell the story the best possible way.”

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