Milan Kazda is a documentary film-maker. In August 1968, when Soviet tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia, he was chief producer at a regional film studio in his home town of Plzen. Along with colleagues he decided to capture on film the traumatic experience of Soviet tanks rolling into the city, courageously going out into the streets to film. The film that resulted remains one of the most powerful documents of the tragedy of 1968. Not surprisingly Milan Kazda was afterwards banned from working in film for over twenty years, and only after 1989 did he start making films again. Here he remembers one of the most frightening moments from that time, 35 years ago this week.
"I've got one memory from 1968 that still sends shivers down my spine. We wanted to capture the occupation of Plzen by the Soviet Army on film. Because the studio we were using had been occupied by a Soviet tank unit, we ended up paradoxically editing the film under the "protection" of the Soviet Army. So a film against the occupation was being put together in a building swarming with Soviet troops - or as we put it at the time: under the light of supreme darkness. While we were editing through the night, a Soviet officer came and very resolutely asked us to come down and join him and the other officers to drink a glass of vodka to toast Czech-Russian brotherhood. When I refused to come, they sent up soldiers with machine guns. The Commandant, by this time already drunk, tried to hand me a glass of vodka and I said - I've already told you that I can't drink a toast with you as long as you're here as occupiers. I turned on my heels, and with my back to the Commandant I left the room. In less than three minutes Soviet soldiers rushed into the room where we were editing with machine guns at the ready and cried: Out, out, out, quick, quick! They shoved us down the stairs. The studio was in the middle of a little birch wood, and we said to ourselves - this is it, the end - if they shoot us and bury us, as has happened in so many other places, no-one will know a thing. But, we were lucky; Plzen was in the part of the country that had been liberated in the war by the Americans, and as such was still a demilitarized zone. Luckily even the Soviets respected this. So they just kicked us out. It was three in the morning. We went through the woods, back to our families and told them what we had experienced. It was a brush with death."