Lidice: New film, old ghosts

Nurturing home-grown, grass-roots screenwriting talent is essential for the future success of the Czech film industry, according to award-winning producer, Adam Dvořák. Speaking about the success of the recent historical drama, Lidice (2011), Dvořák claims that a lack of screenwriters is threatening to upset the balance of the Czech film industry.“People are looking to directors and producers like me to supply the next film, but the success of Lidice came from a script which tells an amazing story. Directors and producers make the films, but the raw material comes from great stories written by screenwriters. Without them we will have a drought,” says Dvořák. “Many people are tempted away from screen-writing to directing and producing by the prospect of greater financial rewards, but without screenwriters there is no film industry,” he adds.Beyond screenwriting, though, Dvořák says the success of Lidice underpins a new chapter for the Czech Republic in the manner in which it deals with the events of its history. It’s a sign of a sort of reawakening of interest in the, sometimes painful, Czech past, especially for younger people, who saw the film in sizeable numbers.“The film has been seen by over 300,000 people and this is good going for a film of this nature. Before, films of this nature would bring in 100,000 to 150,000 viewers. It’s interesting, that the film of the year has not been a comedy or a romantic comedy. This film has proven to be a talking point for people. In terms of genre, the film has re-opened the door for historical dramas.”The fact that the film depicts a moment of national tragedy and an important part of national memory, has led to outpourings of emotion at showings of the film. According to Dvořák, “We have had incidents of standing ovations by audiences in theatres and I have been inundated by positive emails,” he added.

Rethinking the past

Dvořák thinks that the film’s timing corresponds to a renewed sense of national pride and a re-acclimatisation of what it means to be Czech. The film has arrived at the right moment in the Czech national narrative. “I think the film has struck a chord with Czech people and now is an appropriate time for a film of this nature. After the Velvet Revolution, people did not feel patriotic, but now people feel more proud to be Czech, I think.”So does this mean that the Czech film industry is ready to tackle other major milestones of Czech national history? Dvořák agrees that the events of the Prague Spring of 1968 and the Velvet Revolution of 1989 could be turned into successful film projects. “Yes, I think that these issues are ready to be tackled, but I do not know yet of any scripts on this in circulation. But, again, these issues need to be tackled via a great story told in a great script.”Dvořák was disappointed that Lidice was not screened at last year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival, and at the lack of home-grown débuts in general. “Although this is an international film festival, it should also be a showcase for the Czech film industry. Can you imagine the Cannes Film Festival without a French film on the bill?” he said.So what’s next for Dvořák? “The film [Lidice] has been inside my head for two years and it’s time for a change of genre, I think. At the moment, I am heavily involved in editing two new films. After that, I’ll be looking to get involved with producing a comedy or drama film.”

Making excuses or creating a drama

The success of Lidice at the box office seems to suggest there is an appetite for addressing the Czech Republic’s past and dealing with significant events via the big screen. But while this appetite presents an opportunity for historical catharsis and re-evaluation, the method in which it is carried out needs careful evaluation. According to Jan Čulík, a Czech film historian based at Glasgow University, “The film [Lidice] cannot be faulted as a production, but there should be a note of caution with films that deal with the era of the Protectorate,” says Čulík. “There has been much focus in films on how people are caught up in the whirlwind of violence which mark events such as the massacre at Lidice and the portrayal of the Nazis as the embodiment of evil.”Čulík points out that some events were omitted in the film, which could lead minor airbrushing of the representation of real events. “For example, in the film we see the village policeman commit suicide, but in fact he was lynched by angry Czechs seeking revenge. There is often an attempt, when portraying historical events, to ‘Hollywoodise’ them, to change historical facts in order to make events less horrific or to aid the narrative of the drama. This stems from a need to portray individual people as part of a national narrative of tragic events.” Čulík points to Roman Polanski’s The Pianist where the main protagonist is inextricably bound up with the key events of the time, as an example of this happening in previous films.Čulík suggests that films about the era of the Protectorate and Nazi atrocities occupy a twin role within the canon of Czech film. Firstly, it is something of a ‘comfort zone’ for film makers and directors since they know they can make popular historical films based that say “look what they did to us.” Secondly, the use of the Nazi era can be a thinly veiled comment on the Communist era as well.“We [the Czech nation] still need to explore the phenomenon of communism in our country and the absurdity of this totalitarianism. We are still not examining the nature of the fear that existed and the mechanics of oppression which occurred, especially the position of individuals and their responses to it,” says Čulík.Perhaps this proverbial ‘elephant in the room’ is just the challenge that the next generation of screenwriters, that Dvořák would like to see emerge, can pick up and run with.

Photo: Actors Marek Adamczyk, Veronika Kubařová and Ondřej Novák speak to the director Petr Nikolaev on the Lidice set

published: 16. 6. 2013