Awards success for student filmmaker

  • Date

    Wed 28 Jun 23

Jakub Gontko smiling and looking relaxed, looking slightly off camera

A student filmmaker inspired by personal challenges and Sir Peter Jackson has achieved international recognition and two awards for his first short film.

Jakub Gontko, who made Lost Distance during his year abroad in Japan, picked up the Best Student Short Film award at the Heart of European International Monthly Film Festival as well as Best Short Film at the Nicomedia International Film Awards.

The film also got an honourable mention in the Best Student Film category at the Tatras International Film Festival and was a semi-finalist at the Berlin International Short Awards and San Diego International Film Festival.

Inspired by Jakub’s own long-distance relationship, Lost Distance tells the story of Aya as she tries to meet online friend Gui for the first time on Valentine’s Day without the help of technology.

Jakub, who is studying BA Film Studies, is spending a year abroad at the Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Both his love of film and Japan were born out of personal challenges in his childhood.

After a car accident at the age of 11 Jakub spent weeks confined in hospital where he watched endless films, including Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and a behind-the-scenes documentary about the New Zealand filmmaker.

“What first drew me in to filmmaking was the potential to turn my imagination into reality, no matter how fantastical the worlds were. But I also wanted to produce films for people who were in some way suffering, because films helped me get through my hardships and painful times,” he said.

“Sir Peter Jackson is a filmmaking idol of mine. His story made me believe that with sufficient passion, even the impossible may become an achievable goal,” he added.

Having developed an interest in Japan at elementary school, at 15-years-old Jakub, faced with another period of recuperation after spinal surgery, decided to teach himself Japanese.

It made choosing a destination for his year abroad easy: “Japan has always piqued my curiosity. I believed that a year abroad in Japan would allow me to fulfil my desire of experiencing life in Japan while also strengthening my language abilities.”

Living in Japan hasn’t come without its challenges however and Jakub initially found it difficult to make to make Japanese friends, despite his language skills. He credits film with helping him integrate: “Having a shared interest is very helpful. Cinema is something that everyone, no matter where they come from, can relate to,” he said.

Lost Distance is Jakub’s first short film. Directing in Japanese required additional planning and benefited from collaboration with the crew. While editing it he was concerned it wouldn’t meet his expectations but the awards recognition has changed that.

“Receiving acclaim from film festivals is unexpected. It can be frightening to think that there is no singular way to become a director in the film industry. The prizes and nominations give me hope that I'm on the right path,” he said.

After the buzz of the awards Jakub, who is originally from Slovakia, is developing several scripts, including an adaptation of a web series influenced by James Bond, which he first developed with friends ten years ago at school.

Watch Lost Distance.