Czech, Please

Austin Film Society hosts Jan Nemec retrospective

<i>A Report on the Party and Guests</i>
A Report on the Party and Guests

In August 1968, filmmaker Jan Nemec was shooting what was supposed to be a bit of hometown boosterism – a tour of Prague filled with convivial scenes of modern life: hippies in the park painting one another's faces, grannies in their head scarves praying in church. This was the height of Prague Spring, a time when Czechoslovakia was undergoing reforms – promoted as "socialism with a human face" – allowing freedoms of speech and travel unseen since the Communist Soviet regime had taken power in 1948. But those freedoms came to an abrupt end on Aug. 20, 1968, when Soviet tanks rolled unannounced into the country. That day would bring an end to the reforms for another two decades and transform Nemec's quaint snapshot of city life into an iconic portrait of unarmed resistance, replayed in newsreels all around the world.

Nemec is no stranger to resistance. As the "enfant terrible" of Czechoslovak New Wave cinema, he's known for the sly sense of humor and subversive social commentary in his films. His 1966 A Report on the Party and Guests had "outraged the authorities, who quickly banned it," writes Irena Kovarova, the curator for a nationally touring retrospective of Nemec's work. Among the few Czechoslovak filmmakers with an international audience, Nemec is part of the "triumvirate" of directors – alongside Jirí Menzel (Closely Watched Trains) and Miloš Forman (Amadeus) – who "became the face of the new cinema rushing out of Czechoslovakia in the mid-1960s," writes Kovarova. Film producer Jeffrey Brown – a recent Wimberley transplant who has been making films in the Czech Republic for 20 years – worked with Kovarova to bring the retrospective to Austin and is the series' local curator.

Sponsored by the Austin Film Society, the series – which starts 24 years to the month after the Velvet Revolution led to the liberation of Czechoslovakia – includes recent work (2005's previously unavailable Toyen) as well as classics, notably a newly restored 35mm print of Nemec's 1964 masterpiece Diamonds of the Night (about two concentration camp escapees, based on a story by Holocaust survivor Arnošt Lustig).

Nemec was a troublemaker in his early years, "getting permits to shoot one type of film," says Brown, "and then shooting something else." This uncompromising spirit is evident in his movies, says AFS Associate Artistic Director Holly Herrick: "He's interested in focusing on entrapment and not resolving what's going to happen to his characters" – a clear reflection of the psyche of the era. The Sixties were heady because they followed a time when Czech filmmaking "was largely about propaganda," says Mark Hopkins of UT's Department of Slavic and Eurasian Studies, an AFS partner for the retrospective. In reaction to that period, a vibrant generation of artists emerged from the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague to make an indelible mark on the world. It turned out to be only a brief respite from Soviet oppression – but as Nemec's work shows, the spirit of that time still endures.

Jan Nemec: Rediscovered Treasures of the Czechoslovak New Wave

AFS at the Marchesa, 6226 Middle Fiskville (near Highland Mall), Nov. 15-Dec. 6

A Report on the Party and Guests Friday, Nov. 15, 8:30pm

Toyen Sunday, Dec. 1, 7pm

Diamonds of the Night (with short film "A Loaf of Bread") Monday, Dec. 2, 8pm; Wednesday, Dec. 4, 7pm

Pearls of the Deep Friday, Dec. 6, 7:30pm*

*This time reflects a change from original publication.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Austin Film Society
Austin Film Society Presses Play on the Career of TV Superproducer Aaron Spelling
Austin Film Society Presses Play on the Career of TV Superproducer Aaron Spelling
The History of Television series spotlights the man who built The House That Would Not Die

Sage Dunlap, Feb. 25, 2022

We Have a Lot of History Here: <i>The Austin Chronicle</i> and <i>Between the Lines</i>
We Have a Lot of History Here: The Austin Chronicle and Between the Lines
How Jeff Goldblum’s first starring role helped shape the paper we became

Nick Barbaro, Aug. 2, 2019

More by Nora Ankrum
Stressed Out? Let Your Freak-Out Flag Fly!
Stressed Out? Let Your Freak-Out Flag Fly!
Making stress into a friend instead of a foe

Oct. 2, 2020

Public Education Under Fire
Public Education Under Fire
New doc Starving the Beast uncovers ideological clash

March 11, 2016


Austin Film Society, Czech Republic, Diamonds of the Night, Toyen, Pearls of the Deep, A Report on the Party and Guests, Mark Hopkins, University of Texas

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle