The international science documentary festival Academia Film Olomouc (AFO), which takes place from 25 to 30 April, has announced the list of 52 films that will compete in the International, Czechoslovak, and Short Film Competitions. The festival team also revealed the first stars coming to Olomouc – cosmologist Chris Impey and director Sonya Pemberton. The overarching theme that links the entire programme this year is ECHO.
The films will feature disciplines ranging from astronomy to ethology and art history. Prestigious television productions, Oscar nominees, and films pushing the boundaries of documentary storytelling will be given space.
“AFO58 will also explore themes such as economics and the retirement system, or our relationship to time; we will voyage into the depths of the oceans, the proximity of volcanoes, and the far reaches of outer space. We’ll also focus on history, the black market in dinosaur skeletons, archival science, feminism in the arts, and the ever-improving artificial intelligence. The themes of the competition films show just how diverse contemporary society is,” said programmer Eva Suková.
AFO presents the pressing issues of our society to the public
The International Competition will feature Keeper of Time, a film about human efforts to capture time – from stone circles through alarm and cuckoo clocks to the Prague Astronomical Clock. A breath-taking cinematic essay and tribute to the beauty of Greenland, The Last Human is a documentary based on the testimonies of scientists intertwined with the everyday life of the people living there.
Brothers Saud and Nadeem from New Delhi take care of brown moonbirds who literally fall from the smog-infested sky. The gripping story of All That Breathes shows how the urbanised world robs nature of more and more space. “Against the backdrop of this spiritual, magically shot film lurks not only an ecological warning but also the harsh reality of the political scene in India, where nationalist tendencies are on the rise,” said programmer Zdeněk Rychtera. The film was nominated for this year’s Oscar. The programme also includes another two nominated films, Fire of Love and Haulout.
Secret in the Scat searches for facts in the droppings of endangered animals. The camera follows the work of biologist Scott Burnet, known as Scat Man. His subjects include a rhinoceros that uses his poop pretty much as a Facebook page, a giant bird whose excrements become a plant nursery, and whales with rainbow faeces. Another competitor for the jury’s favour is Dead Birds Flying High, which reveals a strange family legacy and the disturbing power of cameras. The filmmakers focus on the story of Sönji Storm, a woman whose eccentric great-grandfather left her with a collection of stuffed animals, a plethora of photographs, and too many questions.
In the Czechoslovak Competition, the documentary Investigators wants to get to the bottom of bioresonance, one of the popular trends of today, and tries to solve the question: Where does science end and quackery begin? The Chronicle of Orgasm series delves into gender identities and intimate life in Czechoslovakia in the second half of the 20th century, showing a Czechoslovak reality that has not yet made it into the history books.
This year’s selection of films for the Short Film Competition is marked by originality of themes and, above all, formal approaches. “It is a joy to see the ease and reluctance to compromise with which the directors of the selected films have tackled often difficult subject matters. The films suggest ways in which the genre of popular science films could develop in the future. A major trend is the frequent appearance of desktop documentaries that take place exclusively on the computer screen,” Rychtera added.
The best in documentary filmmaking from around the world over the last two years
In addition to the films listed in competitions, viewers can look forward to a non-competitive thematic selection of the most interesting films that have appeared in the Czech Republic and abroad in the last two years. Some of the films will be presented by renowned filmmakers and top scientists in person. There will be lectures and other accompanying programmes. Accreditation is free and will be open from the end of March.
The audience will be able to meet Vedrana Pribačić, director of the documentary Bigger Than Trauma. The film deals with a therapeutic group of women who were sexually abused during the Croatian War of Independence in the first half of the 1990s, offering a glimpse into what forms war trauma can take. Esther Elmholt will present her film After Nature. The Danish documentary presents the perspectives of experts on ecology, evolution, and biodiversity, as well as the artist’s view on the issue at hand.
Sonya Pemberton, an Emmy-winning director, screenwriter and one of Australia’s leading producers of factual science television programmes, will come to Olomouc. “In the past years, the AFO audience has had the opportunity to see her films Vitamania: The Sense and Nonsense of Vitamins and Cracking COVID. We cannot wait for the discussions after the screenings," said Ondřej Kazík, AFO’s head of programming.
Chris Impey, cosmologist and professor of astronomy at the University of Arizona, has also confirmed his attendance. He is the author of popular science books on astronomy, including studies of distant galaxies, the large-scale structure of the universe, and the search for exoplanets and extraterrestrial intelligence. He has lectured to audiences as diverse as NASA engineers to Buddhist monks in India, and will present a talk on the end of the universe.
Iveta Jansová, media studies expert from Masaryk University in Brno, will hold a lecture called “Subversive Fandom”. At last year’s AFO, therapist and psychologist Adam Táborský introduced his project Therapy Among the Trees, which takes therapy sessions from the office space and brings them to nature. This year, Táborský returns with a talk entitled “What Is Trauma And How to Deal with It?”, focusing on the manifestations of traumatic stress and the ways to overcome it.
Music is the subject of the film Sisters with Transistors, a remarkable and yet untold story of the female pioneers of electronic music. As Laurie Spiegel, one of the film’s protagonists, explains, “We, women, were drawn to electronic music particularly at a time when the possibility of a woman composing was itself controversial. Electronics allowed us to create music that others could listen to, without having to be taken seriously by a male-dominated establishment.”
The international festival of popular science films Academia Film Olomouc (AFO) has been organised by Palacký University Olomouc since 1966. It is one of the oldest Czech film festivals. Its driving force is, most importantly, current as well as former UP students. It is one of the most visited film festivals in the Czech Republic in terms of the number of accredited viewers. The competition films are dedicated to important milestones of scientific knowledge and promote critical thinking among all viewers.