28 July 2021
Locarno Film Festival restarts for the post-pandemic world with a celebration of the bright future of cinema. In addition to established auteurs, this year’s edition will uplift the young generation of filmmakers and spotlight the emerging talents most likely to make a mark on the cinema of tomorrow. Among the discoveries featured will be the Czech projects Brotherhood and Love, Dad.
Article by Martin Kudláč for CZEH FILM magazine / Summer 2021
After the special 2020 edition of Locarno, organized under the title For the Future of Film, the largest Swiss film gathering and one of the world’s oldest film festivals returns with the same mission and structure under the leadership of a new artistic director. Combining auteur cinema with more audience-friendly genre-tinged fare, the festival’s 74th edition has two Czech works by rising talents in the official lineup, which celebrates global cinema.
The competition section Concorso Cineasti del presente, dedicated to the discovery of tomorrow’s cinema, will introduce the Czech-Italian film Brotherhood. Italian-born Czech-based filmmaker Francesco Montagner’s feature-length sophomore documentary follows in the footsteps of Matjaž Ivanišin’s spellbinding docufiction Oroslan, coproduced by the Czech company i/o post, who debuted in the same competition in 2019.
Montagner returns to the Swiss lakeside festival after the honor of being one of twenty filmmakers in the Locarno Filmmakers Academy during the 2019 edition. At that time, he was working on the short silent experimental film Taurophilia (produced by the Czech independent company Analog Vision), an audiovisual poem on traditional Spanish bull taxidermy. Falling somewhere in between cinema and art installation, the film centers on animal instincts in humans and our inclination to violence.
In Brotherhood, Montagner’s debut feature-length offering, he instead adapts an observational approach to depicting the family of a war veteran and Salafist preacher in Bosnia. The patriarch Ibrahim Delić has been sentenced to two years in prison for terrorism, leaving his three adolescent sons—Jabir, Usama, and Useir—to fend for themselves. Coming from a family of shepherds, their primary responsibilities include the herd and the household, yet the absence of a strict authority figure leaves the sons to experience freedom, dealing with their own choices, desires, identities, and the consequences of those.
Montagner had unfiltered access to the three sons living in a small village in the Bosnian mountains, and the result is an intimate depiction of the struggles and minutiae of daily life. Besides offering a candid portrait of the passage from youth to manhood, Brotherhood is a sociological probe of the Bosnian Muslim community, with Montagner observing the influence of religion on the lives of the preacher’s sons in nonjudgmental fashion.
The production company behind Brotherhood is the young and ambitious independent nutprodukce, with Pavla Janoušková Kubečková serving as producer for the Czech side. In addition to high-end TV series, mostly for HBO Europe, and fiction features by emerging filmmakers, like Teodor Kuhn’s By a Sharp Knife (2019), nutprodukce is devoted to discovering and developing domestic and foreign documentary talents, while at the same time working on formalistically and thematically enthralling documentary projects like Gottland, The Great Night, Nothing Like Before, and Sergei Loznitsa’s State Funeral.
Czech Television, FAMU, Al Jazeera Documentary, and Nadia Trevisan of the Italian firm Nefertiti Film coproduced Brotherhood, with support from the Czech Film Fund (€48,000), Eurimages, the Ministero della Cultura, and the Fondo per l’Audiovisivo del Friuli Venezia Giulia. German sales company Deckert Distribution, specializing in creative documentaries, is handing the film’s international rights.
In its run on the industry circuit, Montagner’s film garnered accolades and buzz, snapping up the Film Centre Serbia Development Award at the 9th edition of When East Meets West in 2019, and the HBO Europe Award at the documentary work-in-progress platform Last Stop Trieste at the 11th edition of the When East Meets West coproduction forum.
In 2018, Locarno’s platform for short and medium-length films by new talent, Pardi di domani, premiered Ondřej Novák and Jiří Havlíček’s collaborative directing effort Reconstruction, based on the true story of a boy committing a crime. This year’s competitive section features the world premiere of Love, Dad, the graduation film by up-and-coming illustrator and animator Diana Cam Van Nguyen.
Van Nguyen, a budding filmmaker of Vietnamese origin born in the Czech Republic, has already managed to make a name for herself in the domestic film industry as well as on the international animation circuit. Her breakout work was the autobiographical 2D animated short The Little One (2017), which charted her experience growing up as a minority in the Czech Republic, criticizing xenophobia while also implicitly castigating the conventions of the Vietnamese community.
In 2018, she won the Best Czech Experimental Documentary Film award at Ji.hlava International Film Festival for her follow-up project Apart. Even as Van Nguyen segued away from autobiographical material, she continued to develop her take on the genre of animated documentary. Apart is a portmanteau short assembling a triptych of narrators who recount their encounters with untimely death as the director explores the topics of loss and grief. Unlike in The Little One, Van Nguyen here combines different animation techniques while reconstructing the protagonist’s experiences.
International Film Festival Rotterdam, known for its championing of innovative and imaginative new cinema, picked Apart in 2019 for its section Voices Short. Typically, Van Nguyen’s works screen in such prestigious international events as the BFI London Film Festival, Premiers Plans or Winterthur. Moreover, the success of Apart culminated in becoming a finalist in 2019 BAFTA Student Film Awards.
In her latest, Love, Dad, Van Nguyen returns to the deeply personal and intimate territory of her own life with an autobiographical animated documentary probing parent-children relationships. The director’s signature genre-bending style is on full display, hybridizing animation techniques with a candid and authentic depiction that heightens the emotional impact. The short film makes effective use of the 13-minute space to encapsulate the high of Van Nguyen’s bond with her father, the family disintegration, and the fallout further propelled by alienation. Love, Dad fits thematically with The Little One and Apart as another installment in a triptych on loneliness.
Each new project of Van Nguyen’s reinvigorates the animated form, never repeating the same style. In Love, Dad, the director fuses the animation and live-action filmmaking she experimented with in Apart while adding cut-out animation, collage, digital animation, and rotoscoping to the rich mix. The inventive amalgam of techniques amplifies the emotional effect of the reconstructed and reexamined memories, augmenting the drama and intimacy. Nostalgia interlaces with heartbreak as male pride tears the family apart, rupturing the daughter-father bond.
The executive producer on Van Nguyen’s previous short efforts, Karolína Davidová, here continues her fruitful collaboration with the accomplished animator, producing Love, Dad for the Czech company 13ka. FAMU and the Slovak offshoot of nutprodukce — nutprodukcia, led by Jakub Viktorín — served as co-producers. Davidová is also in charge of international rights and festival representation. Experienced animator Michaela Pavlátová, head of FAMU’s Animated Film Department—and recently honored with the Jury Award for her own eagerly awaited animated feature debut, My Sunny Maad — served as a supervisor on the project. Van Nguyen’s project received support from both the Czech Film Fund (€38,500) and the Slovak Audiovisual Fund.