Fireman’s Ball re-release highlights lag in Czech film restoration

'Fireman’s Ball'

Since the advent of the DVD video format in the late 1990s, many countries around the world have been re-mastering and restoring their respective movie archives. With the relatively recent advent of high resolution Blu-ray home movie technology, such restoration efforts have increased exponentially. But, perhaps surprisingly, the Czech Republic lags far behind its neighbours in this effort. While the Slovaks have restored around eighty feature films, animated films and documentaries, only two Czech films, The Fireman’s Ball – the restored version of which was recently screened at the Karlovy Vary film festival – and the 1967 movie Marketa Lazarová, have undergone such rejuvenation. Dominik Jun spoke with the director of the Czech National Film Archive, Michal Bregant, about this discrepancy and began by asking about the restoration of Miloš Forman’s iconic and highly allegorical New Wave film.

'Fireman’s Ball'
“What we did with The Fireman’s Ball was the same that we did with Marketa Lazarová last year. And that means digital restoration, using the original film elements from when the film was released. We want to achieve the most authentic image and sound and present it just as the audience saw it when it was first released.”

So scratches are removed, colour fading is corrected, those kinds of things…

“Exactly. We never do any kind of improvements. We only try to restore it so that it looks the way that it was authorized to look by the director and director of photography.”

Will the restored movie be available to purchase on DVD and Blu-ray?

“It will be released in theatres first and then I think later in the autumn a Blu-ray disc will be available on the market.”

And you mentioned Marketa Lazarová, which was the first Czech film to undergo such restoration. Why have there been so few especially when we compare it to Slovakia, which has restored about eighty?

'Marketa Lazarová'
“Or Poland. The reason is unfortunately all about money. Fortunately, we are quite ahead of time in terms of the methodology and concept of digital film restoration. But the Slovak Film Institute, they do it differently: it is less costly but mainly they have much more support from the government. We have the support of the government too, via the Ministry of Culture, but the problem is that financially, this cannot be compared to the Slovaks.”

And how much does such a restoration cost?

“This complete and high standard digital restoration comes to around one million crowns per film.”

And there’s no purely commercial path that is viable, presumably. Obviously when the DVD format emerged, a lot of Czech films came out but they were evidently not re-mastered at all, but rather came off television broadcast tapes. So why wasn’t re-mastering done at that point? Was there simply no money?

“Exactly. There was no money. The commercial success of Czech DVDs about four or five years ago was quite overwhelming. People were buying those cheap [Czech film] DVDs in huge amounts and it wasn’t just collectors either. But that is not the situation nowadays; now the market for DVDs is going down very steeply and we don’t really see any major future for this market. So we have to move towards Blu-ray discs and also think about the online presentation of movies and so on.”

'All My Compatriots'
And finally, there is apparently a list of around two-hundred films that have been selected for restoration, so what’s next?

“That is a good question. It depends on who will be financing it because with Miloš Forman’s Hoří, má panenko, the initiative came from the Karlovy Vary film festival, but it was financed by a private investor. But what is on our shortlist is the Vojtěch Jasný film All My Compatriots (Všichni dobří rodáci, 1968) and also a classic 1948 film from director Alfréd Radok called Distant Journey (Daleká cesta).”