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Traditions in World Cinema
by Linda Badley, R. Barton Palmer, Steven Jay Schneider
(In Paperback from Amazon)
. "Czech Dream" (aka, "Cesky sen")

Some people think that a film project means anything goes. There's a certain mindset that, when you speak from behind a camera, arrogance translates into audaciousness and originality. Two film students in Prague adopted such an approach for their thesis project at film school, but the victims of their chutzpa would seriously challenge ones sense of where to draw a line.

What Filip Remunda and Vit Klusak dreamt up for a documentary was an ultimate marketing stunt: drumming up excitement and customers for the non-existent "Czech Dream, the superstore for a better life!" With an elaborate ad campaign, complete with flyers for in-house brand products, a theme song, website and clever TV ads, they inundate Prague with promos for the fake mega-market, including reverse psychology come-ons that say, "Don't Go, Don't Rush, Don't Spend."

Remarkably, they convince the government to back the project, which gives employment to a whole cadre of professional ad designers and producers, hair sylists, costumers, construction pipefitters, and digital printers who construct a false 2-dimensional picture, 4 stories by 16, representing the store which, from afar, looks like the real thing.

It's enough to bring out a big crowd, empty baskets and strollers at the ready, to enjoy an "opening" ceremony and trudge a long way across a field to the false front. A handheld camera documents the excited anticipation and the range of reactions to the con. Statements vary from face-saving "well, they brought us out on such a nice day" to angry and threatening "who is responsible for this disgrace?!"

Realizing that they couldn't depict themselves as cowards, the student filmmakers field questions and the animosity of the crowd as people leave the fairgrounds shaking off their mortification in a variety of ways. The production geniuses themselves show no remorse and beg no forgiveness. They are filmmakers, and even a manipulative prank on a city, targeted at obvious needs of a population and mass deception, is allowed. But it's hard to exclude the self-promotion of their own superiority and prowess.

It's been championed by Morgan Spurlock ("Supersize Me") and praised by Michael Moore ("Fahrenheit 9/11," "Bowling for Columbine," "Sicko") who, as fellow documentarians, found it suitably controversial to be associated with their brands. It owes more, however, to Bent Hamer's artful "Kitchen Stories."

It's capitalism run amok, and controversial it is. I come down on the side of wishing the boys had had a more creative idea. The guise of scientific value has the earmarks of snake oil. The audience it appeals to are those who revel in other peoples' mishaps and embarrassments. A couple of weeks before this was written, singer Beyonce Knowles accidentally slipped and fell onstage during a performance. The media picked it up and replayed the 3-second clip over and over to the point of total saturation, milking the moment as though it were another morals issue in the Senate. It's obvious that the media knows that it's low brow appeal that pulls in ratings.

That's the audience for this unfortunate piece of obviousness. But I'm, perhaps, too harsh. What do you think?

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  


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