The National Film Archive’s selection includes some of the first films ever shot on Czech lands, as well as works that have been inaccessible to the public for decades. Among them, classics by Karel Lamač (who has made more than 100 films across Europe); films featuring comedic actor Vlasta Burian’s debut performances; and others with Anna Ondráková (known abroad as Anny Ondra and the wife of German boxing champion Max Schmeling).
As part of Europe’s “A Season of Classic Films” project, the newly reconstructed copies of Czech films offer a unique insight into the medium’s history, organizers say, as the program traces its development from period blockbusters to marginal quasi-documentary films.
At the same time, silent films were never silent – screenings were accompanied by pianists or even entire ensembles. So the National Film Archive hires musicians to create accompaniments that reflect diversity – and appeal to contemporary audiences, says festival director Jonáš Kucharský.
“We presented four or five of these restored films at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, accompanied by original modern compositions. We take a slightly different approach to presenting early 20th century Czech cinema. So there are melodramas and romantic comedies, like Hříchy lásky (The Sins of Love) by Lamač and Milenky starého kriminálníka (The Lovers of an Old Criminal), but also more obscure ones.
Among these almost forgotten works is a 1923 film by Svatopluk Innemann titled Buď připraven! (Be Prepared!), which depicts the first Czech scouting movement through a simple story set in a myriad of period locations, such as Orlík Castle and St John’s Rapids, which no longer exist. The projection of the 35mm print, now restored and colored to reflect the original shade, will be accompanied live by the duo Wabi Experience.
Perhaps among the most original films is Boris Orlický’s hard-hitting drama Ukřižovaná (Crucified) about an army officer named Karel Vyšín involved in a love triangle with a young woman named Ruth, the daughter of a Jewish innkeeper. . Ruth’s father disowns her when she becomes pregnant out of wedlock, by a man outside the faith. Spoiler alert: one of them is literally crucified in the middle of a pogrom.
Again, just like when films were first screened in the early 20th century, music is an integral part of the experience, festival director Jonáš Kucharský told Czech Radio.
“We try to show what sound can bring to a film. Thus, viewers will not find traditional piano accompaniment. Showing movies online is tricky, and we thought long and hard about how to create an atmosphere close to a movie theater audience. In the end, we chose a split screen, one with the film itself, the other with the musicians. It was very well received, so we are very satisfied.
A total of 22 institutions from all over Europe, including the National Film Archive in Prague, are taking part in the “A Season of Classic Films” project, under the direction of the Association of European Cinematheques (ACE). Many screenings will be followed by discussion sessions – some in English – during which speakers will address issues related to silent film and its presentation.