In this edition of Screen Czech: just what is it that Czechs like in their movies? That and other questions will be answered by Briana Cechova, the head of the Czech National Film Archive. And, a look back on the one of the Czech Republic’s most famous film directors.
As this is the first Screen Czech since the death of Vaclav Havel just before Christmas, we’d thought we’d look back at one of the great man’s later, perhaps more intriguing incarnations - that of a film director, a long held lifetime ambition that Havel realised only in the final years of his life when he took the director’s chair for the screen version of his stage play “Odchazeni”, or its English title “Leaving”.
Although Havel primarily wrote for the stage, film had been his first love, influenced as he was by his father and uncle, who established Prague’s world famous Barrandov Film Studios and were firmly ensconced in the Czech film-making community before the communists came to power in 1948.
“Leaving” – which was released in 2010 and features Havel’s wife Dagmar in a stellar cast – drew heavily upon Havel’s time as president, telling the story of a fictional leader of a fictional country slowly losing status and control. Radio Prague visited the set of “Leaving” during its production and there spoke to Havel’s former advisor Tomas Sedlacek about how his boss was taking to film-making like a duck to water.
“He’s got this very strange and unique ability to do many things. People don’t realise how many things he’s actually been through. Playwright, poet to a degree, dissident, been jailed, being a writer, the president for many, many years. Being the ex-president – that also takes a lot of work and strength. Then he wrote a successful play, a book and now’s he’s here wanting to direct. That’s a very, very wide spectrum and people don’t realise that.”
And the renowned actress Eva Holubova had nothing but praise for the artistic vision of the former president:
"Vaclav Havel, for me is not only the president. For me he is Vaclav Havel and just now, Vaclav Havel the director. He is a very clever director, he is a very funny director and he isn’t afraid – ever."
Sadly “Leaving” turned out to be Vaclav Havel’s first and only venture into filmmaking but will nonetheless go down as another notable achievement for this most famous of Czechs.
“Leaving” surely guarantees that the former president will enter the archives of Czech film history. Those archives, which date all the way back to the very first Czech film – Laughter and Crying – by the pioneering director Jan Krizenecky, are tucked away in a secure location outside the Czech capital. That’s where I went this week, to speak the Head of the Czech Film Archive, Briana Cechova.
I started by asking Briana what was the main challenge faced by an institution responsible for collecting, collating, storing and restoring such a rich movie heritage.
“The National Czech Archive concentrates on Czech cinematography. All our films are on acetate or polyester but now we have the period of digitalisation and we must be prepared for the new media. Now it is a problem because digitalisation needs a lot of money and our budget is very limited. We are now distributing Marketa Lazarova, the first film on DCP, one of the most famous Czech films.
In my opinion it is very difficult and complicated to find the most important film, but Frantisek Vlacil (the director), he was able to create the atmosphere of the medieval age very originally, very authentically. He was able to use performances of very interesting Czech actors. For this film is very important the art of the director of cinematography."
“Digitalisation is a very important step for the audience because they have greater possibilities to see more films, but for archivists it is much more important to work with original film material, because this material is able to live much longer than digital cover. The task of modern times is to discover how to store digital media – that is a problem.”
There are quite a lot of Czech films made – I think I heard something around 32 per year? Which is quite a lot really.
“Yes, a lot because in the Slovak Republic there are two, maybe three titles. We have thirty titles. I think that some of them are interesting but we must all wait for the Czech “New Wave”.”
To have a New Wave you need a new wave of good directors and filmmakers...
“When you are free you are not able to form something new. Now we have freedom but must find money for production and so on. It’s a matter of the atmosphere of a particular age. I can say that the Czech audience prefer kind films with a kind humour. Something soft – but in my opinion a typical Czech prefers kind comedies.”
Will there always be a happy ending, do you think?
Do you think that some filmmaking is about nostalgia? Definitely “Pelisky”
“Yes, yes – I think it’s a typical matter of being in Central Europe..!”
Thanks very much to Briana Cechova, head of the Czech National Film Archive and remember to back up those DVDs - because unlike film, there’s no chance at all of them being around in 100 years.
What with the festive season it’s been a light month in the movie world but one thing to note is the inaugural Iranian Film Festival that is running at Prague’s Svetozor cinema. The selected films give a fascinating insight into the life in contemporary Iran and will be shown across 16 screenings and in 3 sections – feature, short and documentary.