Josef Bolf is one of the most respected mid-generation artists in the Czech Republic. His uncanny characters, sometimes half-animals, inhabit a post-apocalyptic world devoid of hope and redemption. Death, gloom and doom are expressed in a menacing but playful way. A new English language documentary directed by Benjamin Hunwicke aims to capture the persona of this enigmatic auteur. Bolf’s affection for music is made obvious in the film, but perhaps a lesser-known fact is his influence on bands like Former Ghosts (Freddy Ruppert’s project which also includes collaborations with Zola Jesus, Xiu Xiu‘s Jamie Stewart or Tearist‘s Yasmine Kittles and is featured here alongside up-and-coming Czech project Mon Insomnie.) EB: What motivated you to do a film about a Czech artist? Benjamin Hunwicke: I first came to the Czech Republic to study for one month, and ended up staying for almost three years. I fell head over heels in love with Prague and the Czech people. I started attending art openings and underground parties, and was amazed at the talent here. My first thought was “Why have I never heard about this before?” In England, we hear a lot about Berlin, New York and Tokyo, but sadly a lot of foreigners have a problem even locating the Czech Republic on a map. Many people think it’s just a place to come and get drunk for the weekend. There’s so much going on here, such amazing art, music and culture, and a lot of it coming from this friction between West and Eastern Europe and Czech history. So I began thinking about a documentary. How did you choose to portray Josef Bolf, one of the leading Czech painters?? I first saw Josef’s work at a gallery in Prague. It was everything I felt art should be – intense, visceral, surreal. I was eventually introduced to him by a mutual friend, just after I’d bought his book of art. It was a bit embarrassing, as I was looking at the book as we were introduced. I must have looked like the biggest fanboy in the world! But Josef is very friendly, modest and polite, almost the opposite of his paintings. I found this juxtaposition to be very intriguing, and we quickly struck up a friendship. Eventually I left Prague to study film in Brighton, and was given the opportunity to create a documentary. I thought to myself, “Who’s the most interesting person I know?” Immediately I thought of Josef and his work, and the arts scene in Prague. I pitched the idea, thinking it would be a tough sell – some guy from Brighton going to make a film about a Czech painter? – but people loved the idea, and we were soon in Prague with a digital and Super-8 camera, running around like mad dogs for forty-eight hours. Why did you decide to premiere it online?? I decided to do the documentary in English. There is a lot of fantastic coverage of the Czech arts scene, but most of it is in Czech, which makes it very difficult for foreigners to learn about contemporary culture. I hoped by making the documentary in English that people from all over the world could better appreciate the exciting things happening in Prague. Could you tell us more about the music in the film?? Former Ghosts and Mon Insomnie are two of Josef’s favourite bands, and I think they capture a sound that is similar to his visual art, a kind of intense melancholy. Many people have heard of Former Ghosts, but Tomas from Mon Insomnie is an amazing musician, very young and talented. What about your future projects?? I’m devoting myself to making music at the moment, but if the interest is there, I would love to shoot another documentary in Prague – but with better equipment and this time about the music scene. There is so much great stuff happening in there; the potential is almost limitless. Josef Bolf – The Documentary will premiere on the 6th of April on Youtube and Facebook, and will be available until the 13th of April. Find out more here.?
Published April 05, 2012.