In 2023 Kurja Polt celebrates its tenth jubilee edition! So to speak… We are still trying hard to forget the 2020 Covid edition that was cancelled three weeks before the opening, so we beg you not to mention it at all. Kurja Polt is celebrating its tenth edition, and since it’s our birthday, we are going to knock ourselves out. Instead of our usual thematic retrospective with a cohesive thread and an underlying theme, this year’s retrospective Happy Birthday, Kurja Polt! will bring together some of our all-time favourite films … that still haven’t made it into the programme. Not because they are bad, but on the contrary, because they are “too good”. Our opening film The Party, the supreme anti-Hollywood slapstick satire and timeless treasure by comic geniuses Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers, and the furious death cry of the brutally suppressed Scottish Highlands directed by the no less furious radical pacifist Peter Watkins, Culloden, are so “too good” that we’ve been depriving ourselves for years, patiently waiting to show and share them at our anniversary tenth edition. The greatest Czech film (by common consent) and the greatest French film (according to Truffaut and Melville), František Vláčil’s Marketa Lazarová and Jacques Becker’s The Hole, are “too good” because they belong to the official canon. But we’d love to see the monumentally unique medieval epic and the masterfully suspenseful prison-break thriller with you on the big screen, so we couldn’t care less about the purity of their genre pedigrees. Of course for good measure, and to avoid a revolt, we will add two proper genre gems from two very opposite ends of the spectrum: Bryan Forbes’ slow-burning, atmospheric psychological thriller Séance on a Wet Afternoon is an overlooked gem of British cinema of the 1960s, while the low-budget surrealist parody of the venerable Japanese kaiju tradition, Minoru Kawasaki’s Executive Koala is an absolute cult classic of the new millennium. In this year’s retrospective, there will be few colours and plenty of mud, rain, doom and gloom. But hey, “it’s our party and we’ll cry if we want too.”

Still, not to make everything so depressed and bleak, and black and white, we will enliven the retrospective programme with vast Western landscapes as well as martial arts spectacle and comedy from Hong Kong. Hong Kong Cult Classics comprises a pair of films with no rivals in terms of their influence and popularity among cult film connoisseurs: the ultimate Hong Kong martial arts grindhouse classic Master of the Flying Guillotine on a vintage English dubbed print (which, believe it or not, is even more fun than the original), and the marvellously wacky horror comedy Mr. Vampire, the grandfather of the jiangshi or hopping vampires subgenre. The programme focus Western Politics will bring three diverse expressions of the politically charged Western genre as well as three interesting reflections on the cinematic, geographical, and cultural space. In the documentary The Taking (2021), Alexandre O. Philippe shows how the landscape of Monument Valley, located on sovereign Navajo land, became the embodiment of the very White myth of the American Frontier. With Apache Drums, Argentinian Hollywood outsider Hugo Fregonese and legendary producer Val Lewton created a seemingly classical Western, but in fact a bold and unique “unknown masterpiece” (as per Bertrand Tavernier), filled with hidden political subversion. While Sergio Corbucci’s nihilistic and no less than mythical snow-bound Western all’italiana The Great Silence belongs to a league of its own – which is why we will give it some theoretical attention as well in a talk presented by an expert in Italian Westerns and their political dimensions, Dr Austin Fisher from Bournemouth University in the UK.

Our Contemporary section will be unusually bountiful this year. Here comes the second instalment of Norbert Pfaffenbichler’s anarchic and hallucinatory trilogy 2551.02 – The Orgy of the Damned. Jonas Govaert’s gonzo action flick/thriller/buddy movie/comedy H4Z4RD. The latest grainy 16mm masterpiece and a tense slow burner full of lies and desire from our favourite genre auteur Fabrice du Welz, Inexorable. Oscar Harding’s ode to an eccentric farmer and spectacular home video pioneer Charles Carson, A Life on the Farm. The Oscar-nominated animated mockumentary and the cutest film of all time, Marcel the Shell with Shoes On by Dean Fleischer-Camp. A kick-ass Kate Hudson in The Big Easy’s neon underbelly of Ana Liliy Amirpour’s Mona Lisa and the Blood Moon. French absurdist Quentin Dupieux’s wacky homage to good old times, and the old school superheroes, in Smoking Causes Coughing. The deadpan dystopia of Natalia Sinelnikova’s superb feature debut and student film to boot We Might As Well Be Dead.

Under the watchful eye of Dr Russ Hunter, the 6th Cult Film Conference will host talks by Dr Alexia Kannas (RMIT University, Melbourne) and Dr Steve Jones (Northumbria University, Newcastle). Our traditional fanzine and films criticism workshops, How to Make a Fanzine and Shivering Skin, Sharpening Gaze organized by KINO! magazine, will be joined once again by Ekran magazine’s film criticism club To the Last Word. And last but not least, we will take a stroll down memory lane with the 10 Years of Kurja Polt photo exhibition at the Kinodvor Gallery, remembering our beginnings and the first decade of festival editions, our guests and our audience, the serious stuff and the merrymaking.

Happy Birthday, Kurja Polt, you old chum!

Maša Peče and Kurja Polt Festival