It was one of the most anticipated store openings in recent Czech history. When 4,000 people gathered in a field just outside of Prague to witness the grand opening of the newest hypermarket to grace the country, Czech Dream, they had been drawn by promises of never-ending aisles full of every product imaginable.
The only problem: The store wasn’t there. The field only had a giant billboard; before long it also contained some very angry Czechs and two fleeing filmmakers. The hoax had been orchestrated by two Czech film students who wanted to poke fun at the post-communist rush into consumerism that has dominated their country for the past 15 years. They got haircuts, fancy suits and proceeded to blanket the country with promotions for a new hypermarket that would change people’s lives. More than 130 such “hypermarkets”— big-box stores like Walmart—have been opened in the Czech Republic in the last decade alone, and each one has been accompanied by a glitzy marketing campaign promising wonders never before seen.
The documentary the students produced about their experiment, also called Czech Dream, debuted in New York last month to much critical acclaim. It is, in fact, the first Czech documentary to be distributed in the US. But considering the humiliation endured by some of the film’s subjects, Czechs might have preferred if this honor had gone to a different film. Judging by the documentary, it would appear previous Czech hypermarket promotions have done their job. One girl breathlessly tells the filmmakers that a day in Tesco is “more fun than hiking.” But the fact that the film was also quite popular in the Czech Republic shows that maybe the veneer of these larger-than-life developments is starting to dull. The public relations firm charged with hyping the next big hypermarket may have their work cut out for them.