Films of the 1960’s, the most successful decade in the history of the Czech and Slovak cinematography, were carefully hidden in the 70’s and 80’s. There were no screenings in cinemas or on television; they were banned even for students of film schools.
There were several reasons why the communist regime was afraid of the transference “from eyes to eyes”. To begin with, the film production was very closely attached to all political turmoil – a desperate endeavor to find the way out of the rigid totalitarian regime and replace its face of proletarian dictatorship with one of human socialism. Such attempts were crushed by Soviet tanks in August 1968 and the front leader of the movement, Alexander Dubcek, became just a shadow of an inconvenient past.
Despite the fact that the New Wave came as a result of political “ice melting”, these films were not political in the direct sense of the word. If there was something that connected all the “young men and women” (as Josef Škvorecký, the exiled Czech writer, named them) of the 60’s, it was their regard for the truth, which was the crucial point in everything – the artistic views of the day as well as individual attitudes. This regard was shown most clearly in Miloš Forman’s vision of the world as a “cruel theatre”, the lyrical nostalgia of Ivan Passer, the philosophical meditations of Ewald Schorm, the visual provocations of Jan Nemec, the playfulness of Jirí Menzel, and the unmerciful criticism of current morals by Vera Chytilová, where an unrivaled pinch of Czech humor flavored everything. All of these and their colleagues contributed to the development of new artistic forms and ideas, which gave an unforgettable image of creativity and individualism to the whole decade.
The Slovak part of the New Wave was important, Štefan Uher and his Sun in the Net inspired a new view of artistic forms, opened and showed the way to examining the new language of a new reality. Slovak film of this era clarified the cultural differences in both nations as it kept an evident closeness to the rural values, nature, regional cultures and folklore viewed through the prism of modern artistic forms. Representatives of both the older generation – Štefan Uher, Stanislav Barabáš, Martin Hollý – and the younger – Juraj Jakubisko, Elo Havetta and Dušan Hanák – were graduates of FAMU (Film and TV School of Academy of Performing Arts) in Prague, which was the alma mater of the whole movement.
Watching these films today not only offers the joy brought by accomplished artistic pieces, but can also be viewed as a laboratory of success.