Academia Film Olomouc is the oldest festival in the Czech Republic to focus on consistent mapping of science documentary film.It was founded in 1966 with mutual initiative of Short Film Prague, the Palacký University and the Czechoslovak Academy of Science. Presently the Palacký University in Olomouc is its main organizer.
Since 1950s Short Film Prague produces films of Bohumil Vošáhlík, Jiří Lehovec or Jan Calábek. These pictures present modern scientific discoveries and innovative methods so that they are comprehensible for scientists as well as students of given study field or talented pupils from elementary schools. Topics of the oldest science documentary films were often connected with very specific problems that are difficult to explain even nowadays, such as principle of the world, weather changes, possibilities of sound recording or motion and time relativity. Visually they portrayed organisms of plants, cell nuclei and photosynthesis.
Short Film Prague thus played a crucial part in organizing the first festival in 1966 that originated due to the initiative of the university pedagogue Jiří Stýskal and his colleagues Eduard Petrů and Alena Štěrbová.
1960s and 1970s
The modest idea of a science festival reaches the whole country importance during 1960s and 1970s. It is praised particularly for being an event that maps the situation and transformation of film form. The participation of the Czechoslovak Television on the origin of science films came hand in hand with the development of television broadcasting in 1970s. Its films thus enrich the festival program. The festival had to cope with a sociopolitical situation that was going through a significant transformation at the turn of 1960s and 1970s. The festival was financed by grants of the organizing institutions.
Interest in Academia Film Olomouc gradually increases. Number of films in competition as well as materials with film recording grows. Originally a small university event becomes a festival that draws attention of wider public. It is the video phenomenon that marked a strong development during 1980s besides television. Academia Film Olomouc reacts to this fact in 1986 and includes in its program one of the first video projections in the Czechoslovakia. This step had an extraordinary meaning in its time. It is because the Central Film Distributor that ensured distribution of films within the Czechoslovakia, began to buy video programs from the whole world and distribute them further to the Czech and Slovakian cinemas not until 1st January 1985. Academia Film Olomouc thus ranked among the first institutions that helped the progress of the integral network of video programs.
In 1990s AFO becomes an international festival. It experiences existential problems, though, due to the end of the financing model of a state film. Short Film Prague gained independence and focused more on co-productions of feature films, financial situation of the education system gets worse as well. The festival is still funded by the Ministry of Education, Youth and Sports, Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic as well as by the Ministry of Culture, however, more and more it must rely on private sponsors.
In 1997 the festival organizers established the Award for the Best Multimedia Educational Program, they look for the audience also outside the duration of the festival within the framework of the “AFO into Region” project. In 1999 the festival organization changes, Jan Schneider becomes the director of AFO and thus changes for the up to then director Jindřich Schulz, the former vice-chancellor of the Palacký University in Olomouc.
Beginning of the New Millennium
In 2001 the festival partly moves to the Regional Museum where a video forum, media forum and film bar are set up: “We want to increase the number of festival visitors. Returning to the previous quarters of the festival should be a way of bringing the event closer to audience so that it corresponds to the motto and the overall orientation of this year’s festival. In one word, we don’t want our festival to be focused on university pedagogues and students, but for widest public,” said Schneider 19th April 2001 to MF DNES. The festival is given a new name: International Festival of Documentary Films and Multimedia Educational Programs. The organizational team cancels the competition of educational films.
More profound organizational changes take place in 2003. Rostislav Hladký becomes the new director, the festival changes its date and for the first time it takes place in autumn.
The organization of the festival goes into the hands of the Department of Theatre, Film and Media Studies of the Palacký University. The organizers return to its spring term, Petr Bilík becomes its director. AFO begins to co-operate with the non-government organization JSAF, the organizer of the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival. The aim of the new organizational team is to not overlap the program of the Jihlava festival, to anchor the program structure tightly within educational and science documentary films and strengthen its international character.
This is why AFO gives space to educational programs by BBC or Discovery Channels. Academia Film Olomouc does not want to be just a spectacle show that would “be forced to change its face according to moods and momentary attitudes of its audience,“ as Petr Bilík puts it. We want it to be “an artistic encyclopedia of informative and inspirational experiences”.
The festival adopted the name the International Festival of Science Documentary Films. “Watch and Know” is its motto. New conception and organizers have the effect of increase of interest about the festival particularly on the part of wider public and AFO becomes an event of a worldwide importance.
At the 49th edition of the festival in 2014 accredits a total of 4067 visitors and is attended by 317 Czech and foreign guests. There are 8 programme sections and a total of 92 current popular-scientific films. Next year will be the jubilee 50th year which will be headed by a new director Matej Dostalek. The festival again exceeds its record attendance and around 5,800 visitors are accredited. World-class scientific aces Lawrence Krauss and Richard Dawkins participate and sell out cinema Metropol with their utterly unique scientific dialogue. Both of them were received the Award for personal contribution to the popularization of science in Olomouc over these two years. Altogether 329 guests met during the AFO in 2015.
In 2016, AFO will set foot into its next era under the leadership of Matej Dostalek. 51st year of the festival will be held from April 19 to 24, 2016.