Rare footage from early days of Prague Zoo discovered in Vienna
Thirteen film reels with five hours of footage depicting the early days of Prague Zoo were recently discovered in the Austrian Film Museum in Vienna. Prague Zoo has now released some of the material, shot mostly made between 1934 and 1937, hoping to reveal the identity of the filmmaker. I asked Prague Zoo’s spokesman Filip Mašek to tell me more about the unique discovery:
“First of all, we can see a lot from the personal life of the filmmaker. We can see him just doing regular things, like reading newspapers or going for a walk.
“But what we mainly focus on is the footage from the zoo, because we have no video footage from the early days of the Prague Zoo. A lot of the archival materials were also destroyed during the 2002 floods, so it is something really extraordinary for us.
“The footage shows the first years of the Prague Zoo. We can see some of the exhibits being built. We can also see some bizarre things, that couldn’t happen today, such as a cheetah on a leash. We can see the zoo’s first elephant called Baby helping with building the zoo. So there is a lot of interesting footage in a very good quality.
“The reason why we are calling for the attention of the press is that we don’t know the identity of the filmmaker and probably his wife who is appearing in the films quite often, so we wanted to use the press to help us find more information about these two mysterious people.”
So basically you are hoping that someone will get back to you with information that might help you trace the author….
“Exactly. We are working together with war historians, because there is also some footage from a military training. Also we think that the filmmaker was a soldier, because he is wearing a uniform. That’s one trail we are trying to trace.
“So we are now turning to the public. We are releasing bits of the footage, where you can see these anonymous people that we want to get to know and we hope that the media will help us.
“Also we want to remaster the films and we want to screen them for the public in a small makeshift cinema. It will probably open here in the zoo somewhere in autumn and we would like to invite people to come and feel the atmosphere of the 1930s. So we are planning all kinds of things.”
The film reels have been part of the Austrian film archive since 2011. Why have they only been discovered now?
“The film reels were donated anonymously to the Austrian Film Museum already back in 2011 by some man. Stefanie Zingl, who works in the museum’s archive, discovered them and she was surprised by the quality of the footage and also by the fact that bits of it were even filmed in colour. That’s why she got interested in the matter.
“In the footage she could clearly see the name of the Prague Zoo and some other traces that led her to the Czech Republic. So last October, she called the director of the Prague Zoo Miroslav Bobek and she started her own investigation. That’s how we got hold of the footage, which is in extremely good quality even in the context of other films of the era.”
So if you are lucky enough to reveal the identity of the filmmaker, it could lead you to some other footage that is still lying somewhere in the archives waiting to be discovered.
“It could be. We are also working with the National Film Archive, we are cooperating with other experts in Austria of course and with war historians. And we are also trying to find some links in our archives in the zoo. It will take a long time, but we are hoping that the press will help us with some of the investigation.”