New documentary on 1968 invasion of Czechoslovakia premiers in Karlovy Vary
A long-anticipated documentary on the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia by Czech director Jan Šikl premiered at the Karlovy Vary International Film festival on Saturday, on the occasion of the 53rd anniversary of the event. Called ‘Reconstruction of Occupation’, the documentary is based on long-lost footage, most of which had never been seen before.
Documentary filmmaker Jan Šikl has spent many years seeking out and collecting private film archives. A couple of years ago, he came across a box of 35 reels of film that turned out to contain hours of previously unseen material showing Warsaw Pact troops invading Czechoslovakia as well as the protests that ensued, as he explained to Radio Prague International:
“I got the material from a man who collected memorabilia from WWII and happened to get hold of the reels. I had been pressing him for years to give them to me and in the end he gave in.
“The footage was shot on 35mm, which is a professional film, so you need special equipment to be able see it. At first I couldn’t believe I’d come across four hours of previously unseen footage. But after I digitalised all the material, I realised that it was indeed all newly discovered material.”
In the 1960s, only a couple of state institutions were allowed to shoot on 35 millimetres and since the reels included footage from military premises, Mr Šikl soon figured that it must have been made by the Czechoslovak Army Film studio.
“The year 1968 was unbelievable in this respect. Every cameraman who could get hold of a camera and film material, went out to shoot what was going on.
“And even in the Army Film studio, where you would expect restrictions, everyone agreed that it was important to document the situation. Because at the beginning, even the soldiers opposed the invasion, even though for just a short while.”
Following his discovery, Mr. Šikl made an appeal on Czech Television, asking people who recognized themselves in the film to contact him. The response he received was incredible, he says:
“I got more than a thousand replies, from which I subsequently selected the protagonists of the film – either people who found themselves in the footage or knew someone else shown there.
“For instance, there is a woman whose brother was shot in front of the Czech Radio building, and who is seen in the film lying on a hospital bed.
“But I was also contacted by people who gave me their private footage, shot on 8mm film. I have been collecting private film archives since the early 1990s, but until now, I only had about two or three reels from 1968. So for me, as a collector, this is incredibly valuable.”
Jan Šikl’s powerful documentary ends with the funeral of Jan Palach, who set himself on fire in protest against growing public apathy to the invasion. Following its debut in Karlovy Vary, the documentary will be released in cinemas all over the Czech Republic.