History of Czech Cinematography

Czech (formerly Czechoslovak) cinematography has a tradition that is well reputed, both in Europe and worldwide. Its history stretches back to the very start of cinematography – as early as at the end of the nineteenth century, the first Czech “films” were made, and, in 1907, Viktor Ponrepo opened the first permanent cinema in Prague. Today, his name continues to grace the projection hall of the Czech National Film Archive, which is among the world’s top ten film archives. The mission of this institution is to collect, protect, and carry out academic research. Further, it aims to make available both the audiovisual archive material and the related written material that comprise a part of the national cultural heritage and document the origin and development of cinematographic works.

Oscar Winners

The most celebrated era of Czech cinematography (formerly Czechoslovak) was the New Wave of the 1960s. The films from that time rank among the most significant works of world cinematography. Many of them received awards at the world’s foremost international film festivals – moreover, the films Obchod na korze (The Shop on Main Street), directed by Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos, and Ostře sledované vlaky (Closely Observed Trains), directed by Jiří Menzel, were awarded the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film by the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1965 and 1967 respectively. Among the most noted of those who were part of the Czech New Wave were: Miloš Forman, Ivan Passer, Věra Chytilová, Jaroslav Papoušek, Jiří Menzel, Jan Němec, Jaromil Jireš, Evald Schorm and Vojtěch Jasný.

After August 1968, when Czechoslovakia was invaded by Soviet occupying forces, certain films that were still being made during the politically relaxed atmosphere were banned from cinemas, and ideological control and tough censorship took over film production, as well as various other aspects of cultural life. A number of filmmakers had to discontinue their work and some of them emigrated. Nevertheless, even in the socialist era, films were being made officially, especially comedies, which received great acclaim from Czechoslovak viewers, used to reading between the lines.

Before November 1989 cinematography had the disadvantage, compared to other forms of art, of being limited by a state monopoly both in film production and distribution. While literary works of art were illegally distributed in 'home-made' copies, banned 'vault films' could not be seen anywhere.

Twenty Films per Year

After 1989, the state monopoly on film production, sales, and distribution was removed and, in 1992 a law established the State Fund of the Czech Republic for the Support and Development of Czech Cinematography. As a means of providing state financial support for cinematography, the fund is financed from a cinema ticket surcharge of CZK 1, and from the income of the sale of Czech films made between 1965 and 1990. Each year, there are approximately twenty Czech films made in the Czech Republic.

The creative potential of Czech filmmakers is high in all genres – in feature, documentary, and animated films. Testament to this is their international success (in 1996, Kolja, directed by Jan Svěrák, was awarded the Oscar for Best Foreign-Language Film) as well as their success in gaining financial support from the European Union (EU), within the MEDIA 2007 programme and from the Eurimages fund of The Council of Europe.

Animated Film

Czech animated film also has its famous era, to which high quality contemporary films can relate. Among the most significant filmmakers in this genre are Jiří Trnka, Karel Zeman, Hermína Týrlová, Břetislav Pojar, Jiří Brdečka or Eduard Hofman, followed by the younger generation of Lubomír Beneš, Jan Švankmajer, Jiří Barta, and others. Contemporary animation filmmakers have won respect and recognition on the international scene.

The Czech Republic also has a tradition of a high level of secondary and university film education. These schools contribute to the development of international relations and cooperation.

Cinematography enjoys steady and increasing public interest. The Association of Czech Film Clubs includes approximately 125 film clubs. Its objective is to acquire and distribute quality films and also engage the involvement of young people. The viewership of Czech films domestically is traditionally high. In terms of the domestic market share of national cinematography, the Czech Republic is the second highest in Europe.

The Czech Republic Also Attracts Foreign Filmmakers

The Czech Republic may also take pride in its wide assortment of film reviews and festivals of feature films, documentaries, and animated films, as well as thematic festivals. Among the largest are the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, Zlín International Film Festival for Children and Youth, One World International Human Rights Documentary Film Festival, Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival, Uherské Hradiště Summer Film School, and the Třeboň AniFest international animated film festival.

In terms of the film industry, the Czech Republic offers attractive locations that are available for shooting films, as well as the high quality, creativity, and flexibility of its film professionals. Thanks to their reputation for professionalism, and favourable prices, the country has become a popular site for many foreign productions from all over the world. To name but a few, the television mini-series Les Misérables, the Mission Impossible films, Blade II, The Brothers Grimm, Hart’s War, XXX, Oliver Twist, Hellboy, Van Helsing, and The Chronicles of Narnia were shot here.

Czech Films Awarded the Academy Award for Best Foreign-Language Film

1965 – The Shop on Main Street (Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos)
1967 – Closely Observed Trains (Jiří Menzel)
1996 – Kolja (Jan Svěrák)

Last update: 16.8.2011 16:01

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