Jan Sikl's new film series, "A Private Century"
Like everywhere else, Czech documentary films range in style and subject matter. One of this country's prominent documentary film-makers is Jan Sikl. He has a new project of eight films in the works, all of them based on amateur footage from private family archives.
The clip you heard there is from Jan Sikl's new film, "Small Russian Clouds of Smoke," which tells the story of a wealthy Russian émigré family that fled Russia after the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, and settled in Prague. The Popovs and their friends in the Russian émigré community are brought to life on screen more than 80 years after they first immigrated to Czechoslovakia, and this thanks to footage that family patriarch, Evgeni Popov, took himself. The original film footage is silent, but with the help of family diaries and digging in historical archives, Jan Sikl narrates the Popovs' story. It's a technique that Jan Sikl borrowed from his Hungarian colleague, Peter Forgacs, who started working with silent amateur film footage before the fall of communism in 1989; there is an extensive archive in Budapest devoted to the material Peter Forgacs has collected.
"I discovered something quite basic in the process that I'd overlooked before. It became obvious that I had to research the background of the private footage, and get information from the relatives of those involved. On their own the silent films were lifeless—they showed streets, people, and a time about which nobody knew anything. So I began to search for the family members of those in the archival footage, and in this way I made the connection between the film material and people's memories, and I had a starting point for the films."
Since the aim of the films is to portray the private lives of people who lived in various periods of 20th century Czechoslovakia, I asked Jan Sikl how he found a balance between the individual stories and the ever-important backdrop of historical events:
We can look forward to seeing Jan Sikl's complete series "A Private Century" on public broadcaster Czech TV at the beginning of next year.