As one of the few women filmmakers in Eastern Europe in the 1960s and 1970s, Drahomíra Vihanová studied at the legendary FAMU (Film and TV School of The Academy of Performing Arts) in Prague, which became a focus for dissent against the Communist regime. Alongside Milos Forman, Ivan Passer and Ji?í Menzel, she was a prominent member of the Czechoslovak New Wave. Unlike some of her contemporaries she remained in her country after the Prague Spring in 1968, only to have her work heavily censored. Principled and unwilling to compromise, her first feature film A Squandered Sunday (1969) was banned by the authorities. She was only able to return to filmmaking in the late 1970s, and then only permitted to make documentaries. As a result her films have never been seen before in the UK, and now The Barbican is set to present a short retrospective of her work from Thursday 2nd – Saturday 4th June 2016.
The event being held at The Barbican Cinema, Barbican Centre will comprise Vihanová’s feature debut A Squandered Sunday (1969), which will be followed by a Screen Talk with Vihanová, live from Prague via Skype. A subsequent screening will showcase four classic Vihanová documentary shorts from the 1960s through to the 1990s: Fugue on the Black Keys (1965), Questions for Two Women (1985), Metamorphosis of my Friend Eva (1990) and Everyday I Step in Front of Your Face (1992).
Peter Hames, author of The Czechoslovak New Wave and an expert on Czech cinema, together with Renata Clark, Deputy Director of the Czech Centre have collaborated together on the retrospective. In a short conversation with Aesthetica, Hames reflected on the timing of the retrospective, programming along with Clark a collection of films that would offer the broadest perspective of the Czech filmmaker, as well as sharing his thoughts on her place in film history. He also looked back to the personal impact of programming the event as well as to the hopes he has for the impending audience response following a moment of cultural discovery.
KB: With this retrospective being the first time Vihanová’s films have been seen in the UK, a good opening question is perhaps why this retrospective and why now? It certainly has the feeling of an historic cultural moment.
PH: Well, increasingly people are beginning to recognise the importance of the Czech and Slovak films of the 1960s. One leading American critic (Jonathan Rosenbaum) has commented recently that while everyone got excited about the French New Wave, the real innovation and interest lay in Central and Eastern Europe (Czechoslovakia, Poland and Hungary). Audiences are beginning to discover these cinemas through DVD releases and last year, BFI Southbank devoted a complete season to the work of V?ra Chytilová, the leading Czech woman director of the 1960s. As the second female director of the Czech New Wave, it’s fitting that Vihanová’s work should finally be recognised in the UK.
KB: The retrospective will comprise Vihanová’s feature debut A Squandered Sunday (1969) alongside four short documentaries that chart her career from the 1960s up until the 1990s. What was the process by which you narrowed down the choice of films to offer the broadest insight into her identity as a filmmaker?
PH: Vihanová completed two further features after the fall of Communism and it would have been ideal to have included them – particularly The Fortress (1994), which is effectively a consideration of the years of accommodation and persecution that followed the Russian invasion of 1968. However, A Wasted Sunday, which was made during the 12 months following the invasion, is a highly original work that would probably be impossible to make today. It’s undoubtedly her most important feature.
The documentaries have been carefully selected to represent her work over time. The first, Fugue on the Black Keys, which is a graduation film made in 1964, shows her innovation in editing and won awards at many international festivals.
KB: Throughout history censorship has opposed all forms of art. Within the chapter of film and censorship, how significant is Vihanová and her work as a means to help us understand the subjugation of film and the filmmaker to censorship?
PH: Had Vihanová made A Wasted Sunday earlier in the 1960s, her film would have been released and she would be better known. At the end of 1969, it was one of a number of completed films that were banned and not released for another 20 years. Others were stopped in mid-production. Eventually over 100 films produced during the 1960s were added to the blacklist. She wasn’t allowed to make feature films during the next 20 years – they had to be positive, life affirming and above all easily comprehensible. According to the authorities, A Wasted Sunday was too pessimistic and avant-garde in its approach. Above all, critical and avant-garde films were seen to be subversive and a threat to the neo-Stalinist regime then being introduced.
KB: Could we describe this retrospective as presenting the spirit of endurance of art as depicted through Vihanová?
PH: The survival of A Wasted Sunday definitely represents the endurance of art – and there are many other Czech films being discovered and rediscovered. Providing the materials still exist, they can reach new audiences and provide new inspiration to younger filmmakers.
KB: For you what does Vihanová mean to not only Czech cinema, but also the past, present and future story of film?
PH: Together with Chytilová, Vihanová was one of the key women filmmakers of the New Wave. They were also amongst the most experimental and thought provoking. They will of course be recognised as important in the history of female film directors, but their importance goes much wider.
KB: For you personally how has putting together this retrospective impacted you? And how do you think or rather how do you hope it will resonate with the audience – the majority of who will be discovering these films for the first time?
PH: I hope that the audience will find the films both aesthetically and thematically stimulating. Personally, re-examining her films and those produced in the 1960s is an ongoing voyage full of surprise and revelation.
The retrospective takes place at The Barbican Cinema, Barbican Centre (@BarbicanCentre), and the screenings are presented in partnership with the Czech Centre London and the National Film Archive, Prague.
For more information visit www.barbican.org.uk