CZECH REPUBLIC: A 'shoe-in' for a film festival

The Tomas Bata University in Zlin in the Czech Republic is something of a 'shoe-in' when it comes to film festivals. Home to Europe's oldest children and youth film festival, Zlin - a small town deep in the Moravian countryside in the county's south-eastern forested hills and rolling farmland - is more famous for its footwear than films.

But it is here that Tomas Bata co-hosts an annual jamboree of films for younger audiences that attracts kids by the schoolbus-load. The university, founded in 2001, takes its name from famous shoemaker Tomas Bata who established factories in Zlin in the 1890s that helped make his footwear famous worldwide.

This year's 49th edition gave its, ahem, 'Golden Slipper' for best children's feature - awarded by an international expert jury that included Gabor Csupo, the Los Angeles-based Hungarian-born creator of kids cartoon Rugrats - to Czech director Maria Prochazkova's Who is Afraid of the Wolf?.

The film also picked up top prize at the Czech national film awards Finale held in Pilsen in April and tells the story of a small girl who attempts to understand her complex family situation through the prism of the children's Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. Best feature film for youth went to Max Embarrassing by Denmark's Lotte Svendsen about a 14-year-old who lives with an extrovert mother.

The connection between slippers - or boots - and movies goes back much further than the last half century. The Batas, ever the energetic entrepreneurs, saw the value of advertising and filmmaking and began holding open-air summer film screenings in the town in the 1920s. The firm even built film studios - the pre-war sound stages are rare surviving examples of early movie-making facilities that are still in use.

The festival is not just for young children - 470 films from 44 countries screened in a wide range of programmes to suit all tastes, including those of the university's 12,000 students. University Rector Ignac Hoza attends many of the festival events and was on stage for the live television broadcast of its awards.

Zlin is not a festival that simply puts on films for children: youngsters play a key role and juries are made up of children and teenagers who make their own special awards. This year, the children's jury gave kudos to Czech director Miloslav Smidmajer's Hell with a Princess, a rollicking tale of a beautiful princess whose nuptials are interrupted by a visit from the devil.

The young jury also voted for It's Not Me, I Swear by Canadian director Philippe Falardeau, a searing tale of a sad 10-year-old boy driven to attempt suicide by the crazed behaviour of his parents.

The film, which played in Berlin's Generation KPlus this year, was given a special mention by the international expert jury who lauded its excellence in cinematography, acting and script but felt it was a film aimed at an adult, rather than youth audience.

There was another special mention: Japanese director Tetsu Maeda's A School Day with a Pig about a teacher who decides to teach children about their relationship to the food they eat by having them raise a pig.

The festival has expanded in recent years and screened 470 films from 44 countries, with 199 films competing in five categories during its eight-day run, attracting nearly 100,000 spectators.