5 acclaimed new Czech documentaries you can stream right now

Stream (or catch in cinemas) new and award-winning Czech documentaries from the Ji.hlava Film Festival (with subtitles) until Nov. 12.

Expats.cz Staff

Written by Expats.cz Staff Published on 31.10.2023 15:09:00 (updated on 31.10.2023) Reading time: 4 minutes

In recent years, Czech documentaries have thrived, seizing the opportunity to tell compelling real-life stories that address important issues and shed light on social realities. Auteurs like Helena Třeštíková and Olga Sommerová have blazed a trail for the next generation of filmmakers while annual film festivals, featuring local and international documentary talent, have further elevated the Czech documentary scene both domestically and abroad.

For a hit parade of the best Czech documentaries to watch now, the 27th Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival offers a who's who of doc talent. The festival recently concluded its in-person program but over 170 films are available for streaming on Ji.hlava Online until Nov.12. Viewers can see not only the festival's main competition winners but also some of the most interesting titles presented across Ji.hlava's various sections.

Most of these documentaries will also be coming to Czech cinemas soon (or in some cases may have already arrived). Note that all films on Ji.hlava Online are geo-blocked to viewers in the Czech Republic only. 

You Will Never See It All (Chybění)

This film, which won the festival's debut prize, reveals the life of conceptual visual artist Ján Mančuška, who passed away in 2011 at the age of 39, leaving behind a body of remarkable works celebrated internationally but less recognized in his homeland. The documentary delves into Mančuška's art, his reflections on everyday life, social reality, and the essence of language. Directed by Štěpán Pech and involving the artist's children, the film offers a fresh perspective on Mančuška, aiming to rekindle the understanding of his art. It endeavors to ensure his works are experienced anew, bridging gaps that the fading memory of his personality may leave behind.

Photophobia (Světloplachost)

Marek Leščák, Ivan Ostrochovský, and Pavol Pekarčík won the festival's "Czech Joy" section with Photophobia (Světloplachost). The story follows 12-year-old Niki and his family who, in the midst of a harrowing war seek refuge in the Kharkiv metro station, where daylight symbolizes danger. Niki's life becomes confined to the station's neon-lit confines, but a chance encounter with Vika, an 11-year-old girl, offers a glimmer of hope. Together, they explore the abandoned platforms and trains, forging a deep connection. Their friendship becomes a source of courage, allowing them to defy the fear of the war outside and once more experience the warmth of the sun on their faces, even amidst the bleakest circumstances. A Czech-Ukrainian-Slovak co-production.

This Is Havel Speaking, Can You Hear Me?

In April 2009, Václav Havel proposed to director Petar Jančárek to "...film the rest of his life." Their almost three-year collaboration, which ended with Havel's death, was characterized by complete openness, the ex-president's trust in the director, and the creator's responsibility towards his hero. The feature-length documentary is drawn from rare footage and benefits from the non-existing difference between Havel's private and public personality. The film, in the words of the director, "does not intend to become a formally polished monument to a great man or a slogan in the encyclopedia of world statesmen."

Parts of the film were recently shown at the Jihlava festival; the documentary hits cinemas in 2024.

Is There Any Place for Me, Please? (Moje nová tvář)

The new documentary film Is There Any Place for Me, Please? (In Czech, My New Face) directed by Jarmila Štuková tells the true story of Martina, a woman who survived an acid attack by her ex-partner. The nine-year film project offers a personal account of Martina's struggle in the aftermath of the assault, as she copes with loss of vision, fear of public places, and her search for new meaning in life. Filmed in the style of a biopic, the documentary follows the subject on her journey to find happiness. Martina's arresting dialogue and willingness to address taboos, however, elevates the material to something else entirely. When filming began, Martina was still deeply traumatized and agreed only if the director would destroy the footage upon request.

Opened in cinemas on Oct. 26, 2023; check Kino Světozor for English-subtitled versions; available on Ji.hlava online through Nov. 12.

The World According to My Dad (Jiříkovo vidění)

In a heartfelt documentary, director Marta Kovářová chronicles her father Jiří Svoboda's passionate quest for climate justice. Svoboda, a scientist at the Institute of Physics of Materials in the Czech Academy of Sciences, advocates for a simple yet ingenious solution to combat greenhouse gas emissions: a global carbon price. Kovářová accompanies her father to local protest gatherings and international environmental summits, sharing their journey through her camera lens and music. While their determination is palpable, it often collides with political inertia and bureaucratic rigidity. Nevertheless, Svoboda's unwavering humor and belief in doing what's right sustain their shared mission.

Bonus tip: Helena Třeštíková retrospecitve

A Moment in Time-Lapse

With a career spanning over 40 years, Czech filmmaker Helena Třeštíková is renowned for her observational documentary portraits following subjects over decades. Known as "time-lapse documentaries," her films like A Marriage Story and Private Universe provide intimate longitudinal views of ordinary lives. Her films have been shown widely in Czech cinemas but received less international attention. Now fans worldwide can discover Třeštíková's body of work, including her latest film René: The Prisoner of Freedom, in a retrospective starting Oct. 23 on the streaming platform True Story. The retrospective makes accessible this pioneering filmmaker's noteworthy career capturing lives through committed long-term storytelling.

Třeštíková's more than 30 time-lapse documentaries are now the subject of a retrospective on the streaming platform True Story, launching on Oct. 23.

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