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Jaroslav Siakel


Milos Havel



History of Czech Cinema

To trace the steps of Slovak cinema means returning to the old days of Czechoslovakia, when the Czech Republic and Slovakia were one country and shared some of their art traditions. The story of Czech – as well as Slovak - cinema begins in 1921 with Jánošík, a full-length feature movie by Jaroslav Siakel.

Professionalization of the industry

In the early years of Czechoslovakian cinema, the plots mostly revealed the traditions and folklore of the country, often showing rural exteriors. Jan Kříženecký, often credited as the country’s first film director and cinematographer, filmed short documentaries and newsreels, popular across Europe during the latter part of the 19th century.

During the twenties, Czechoslovakia produced approximately 20 feature movies per year. National cinema typically included melodramas shedding light on social themes during this silent film era. When the sound era commenced, cinema became popular in the country to the extent of Prague becoming the city with the most cinemas per capita in Europe.

By 1931, Milos Havel led the industry by building a modern film studio in Barrandov. After its conception, the studio housed 80 filmings each year in the country.

Nazi and Communist Invasions

After the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1939, the Germans largely took over the Barrandov Film Studios. The Nazis knew very well that controlling the media was crucial for propaganda purposes, thus Czech cinema industry enjoyed a flourishing era.

The 1950s represented a complete shift in the country’s policies after the communist coup of 1947. The Barrandov film studio and other facilities became nationalized until 1990.

Soon enough, communists introduced their new ideas into the industry, also aware of the power of media. Social realist and working class stories, as well as anti-American propaganda films became popular, like The Kidnapping (1952), directed by Ján Kádar and Elmar Klos. Director Otakar Vávra became the most important filmmaker of the strict-communist era.

The decades from the 60s to the early 90s saw a less taut communist censorship program within Czech cinema, thus offering more opportunities to some innovative directors to portray adventures and fiction. From those days, The Shop on Main Street (1965) by Ján Kadár and Elmar Klos, (which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film) remains among the more remarkable.

The 1960s developed into the Czechoslovak New Wave, the golden age of Czech cinema, which is frequently associated with the early works of directors such as Miloš Forman, Věra Chytilová, Jiří Menzel and others.

The Modern Times

Sharing the same condition of most of the former USSR states, Czech cinema saw a decrease due to lack of funding and turbulent political changes: the fall of the Soviet regime and the split of Czechoslovakia. However, Czech film industry not only remained afloat but flourished, especially with Jan Sverak’s, Elementary School (1991) and Kolja (1996), which received an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film.

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