"Eight" - The magical and tragic in Czech film and history

There’s a rather unusual film festival underway at a Prague cinema at the moment. Called “The Magic Eights”, it examines the strange significance of the number "8" in modern Czech history. The festival features around a dozen films either made in or about the crucial moments in the country’s recent past, most of which occurred in a year ending in "8".

The Joke
One of the opening films at the Magic Eights festival was called "In The Heart of Europe", made in 1968 to mark the fiftieth anniversary of the foundation of Czechoslovakia. Using rare newsreel footage it covers all the major events in that half-century – the country's independence celebrations in 1918, Hitler's seizure of the Sudetenland in 1938, and the Communist takeover in 1948, although it was made too soon to capture the Soviet tanks rolling into Prague in August of 1968. Magic Eights organizer Ivo Slavík told Radio Prague about the films being shown at the festival:

“We’re showing everything. We’ve got some documentary films, several of which were banned after 1968 and were kept in storage for decades. Then we’ve got high-quality feature films, such as The Joke – based on Milan Kundera’s book of course. But we’re also showing some really embarrassing communist propaganda films from the 1970s, such as The Bells Won’t Be Ringing For You, which is a real agitprop film.”

The idea behind it is to use this year’s anniversary of so many vital events in Czechoslovak history and, through the medium of film, to discuss their significance. One man whose life was personally touched by the Magic Eights was Jiří Stránský, a 77-year-old writer and filmmaker. His grandfather was one of Czechoslovakia’s prime ministers after 1918, his father was condemned to death by the Nazis after 1938, and he spent seven years in communist prison camps after 1948. He says Czechoslovakia's 20th century history might seem to be steeped in magical significance, but in reality it was the Czechs themselves who were largely responsible for their fate:

"Yes, it's really incredible. But in many ways we caused it ourselves because we were not able to choose the right moment and at that very right moment say Stop! Unfortunately that's not a part of our nature…"

Entry to the films is free, thanks to the support of local authorities and a number of sponsors. Organizers hope that will mean it will attract large crowds, especially younger people for whom the events of ‘68 or ‘48 or ‘38 are all rather distant and abstract. As for this year’s Magic Eight – it’s too soon to say whether it will be magical…or miserable.