Twenty-two institutions from all over Europe, including the Národní filmový archiv, Prague, are taking part in this project of the Association of European Cinematheques (ACE), which aims to acquaint the public, younger viewers in particular, with classic films and the preservation of film heritage. From April to June, the archive will be making a series of seven silent films available online free of charge, which will include musical accompaniment by contemporary musicians.
The selection includes Karel Lamač’s films, performances by Vlasta Burian and Anna Ondráková, and some of the first movies shot in the Czech lands, as well as works that have not been available to the public for decades. According to festival manager Jonáš Kucharský, ‘Newly reconstructed film prints offer unique insight into the history of Czech cinema. The festival program traces the development of early Czech film in all of its variety – from period blockbusters to marginal, quasi-documentary films. In response to the question of what constitutes a “film classic” in the context of early Czech cinema, our series provides an ambiguous answer. It will be up to the audience to decide what this term means to them on the basis of the screenings and discussions’.
Film was never silent. In the 1920s, screenings were accompanied by pianists or ensembles that played a variety of compositions, drawing on more or less popular music. The Národní filmový archiv, Prague has a practise of engaging musicians to create new film accompaniment to reflect the diversity. Kucharský adds, ‘We have long aimed our programming of musical accompaniments for silent films at the broadest possible audience. Within the Ponrepo cinema program, spectators can hear, for example, conservative piano accompaniments as well as electroacoustic experiments. The Season of Classic Films festival will thus offer a wide range of styles and genres to demonstrate different ways that silent films may look and sound in the year 2021. Our goal is not to create a definitive, final version of a film and its musical accompaniment – on the contrary, we seek to offer only one possibility of how a film can sound’.
The first screening of the Season of Classic Films series on April 8 will be Karel Lamač’s Bílý ráj (White Paradise) with musical accompaniment by multi-instrumentalist Tomáš Vtípil. After this, further films with new musical accompaniments will be added to the online series on a bi-weekly basis. Jan Burian will provide music for a series of films by Jana Kříženecký, which will also have live commentary. Wabi Experience will perform accompaniment for the boyscout-themed educational film by Svatopluk Innemann, Buď připraven! (Be Prepared!). Lamač’s Hříchy lásky (Sins of Love) will have musical accompaniment from Johana and Martin Ožvold and Jan Kratochvíl. The newly restored Milenky starého kriminálníka (The Lovers of an Old Criminal) will feature music by Vojtěch Procházka. The well-known Trio Neuvěřitelno will perform for the drama Cikáni (Gypsies). Finally, viewers will be able to watch a new print of the film Ukřižovaná (Crucified) with music by Ondřej Bělíček.
Some screenings will be followed by discussion sessions in which speakers will address issues related to silent film and its presentation. After White Paradise on April 8 there will be an online discussion (in English) on the topic of “Classics Today”, which provides a framework for the entire series. ‘The term “classic” has lost much of its original meaning nowadays. We use it in contexts that have nothing to do with culture and art. For this very reason, it is important for us to return to the word “classic” itself, in order to clarify what the term means today. We talk about classics in architecture, music, literature – but what do we mean by this? And why employ this term?’ asks the CEO of the Národní filmový archiv, Prague, Michal Bregant, who will lead the discussion with guests from various fields of art and culture on the contemporary meaning of the term “classic” and how we should operate with it.
A Season of Classic Films is a project of the Association of European Cinematheques (ACE) and is financially supported by the EU Creative Europe program.