The Czech New Wave - Resistance through Film

Our first national Cinema will be from the Czech Republic. We will be looking at the Czech New Wave movement in the 60s and 70s, that was based on fighting the boundaries of Soviet oppression. When talking about the Czech New Wave you are talking about an incredibly brave movement within a country of almost total censorship. This makes it absolutely relevant to our journey through the global world of cinema.

Czechoslovakian Cinema already established its relevance to the European Arthouse in the early 1920s during the then current shift in art, post WWI. During this time the Czech Film Industry experienced a boom in productions which led to the 1933 founding of Barrandov Studios.

Czechoslovakian Filmmakers were introduced to animation through World War II by the invading Germans, who brought with them advanced Filmmaking techniques. Then, learning from Disney animations, like Snow White, they established a strong Animation Industry, often working for foreign companies demanding a fraction of the price that would be payed somewhere else. They became so good, they rivalled their biggest competition in Disney.

Post WWII, Czechoslovakia entered an era of Soviet “Liberation”, pushing all art scenes underground. A Pro-Soviet Film Council was formed to filter the emerging Film Art in Czechoslovakia. This Film Council would only approve pro-soviet material.

This “Liberation” encouraged Czech Filmmakers to utilize their talents in animation and found the 1963 Czech New Wave. The countries third Cinema movement since 1897. Czech Filmmakers had proven to have a talent in circumventing restrictions on their art. To avoid close scrutiny, they reverted back to creating children’s animations.

Material dedicated to young audiences was not as heavily policed by the Soviet Control as other material was, making it a prime contender to pursue artistic freedoms. Animations made it easier for Filmmakers such as Jan Svankmajer to hide political statements and commentaries in his Films.

The Czech New Waves primary goal was to document and exhibit as much of Czech life under oppression as possible. The Czech New Wave drew from the General European Cinema scene of the time by projecting the Czech Life they wanted to show into the visuals of their films. The artistic focus was not on the action of a film but the hidden messages within its visuals.

Jan Svankmajer utilized this way of portrayal in his works, especially so after his restriction to literary adaptations by the Soviet Union. In Alice (Jan Svankmajers, 1988), a literary adaptation of Alice in Wonderland, the mise-en-scene depicts run-down settings, isolated households and a populace of plebeian skeleton-beings, while following the plot of the original book.

Jan Svankmajer distanced himself from the movement, calling his work surrealism. Leonardos Diary (Jan Svankmajers, 1972) caused Svankmayer to be banned from Filmmaking for 7 years. Consciously or not, he played a vital role as inspiration to his co-filmmakers of the era even after many founding members had been silenced in 1968 and his works are portrayed as unique examples of the movement.

The Czech New Wave movement took an abrupt and diminishing blow in 1968 just after the suppression of the Praque Spring. With the establishment of more Soviet Control, many New Wave Filmmakers fled the country, ending any substantial drive behind the movement. Only a select few were brave enough to continue.

Many films draw inspiration from the sub-textual methods in Czech Cinema. Using absurdity to portray daily life. This makes the Czech New Wave vital to our Wider Viewing of Cinema.