Iluminace shines light on amateur cinema in the Eastern Bloc

Prague (Czech Republic)

In February 2016, the National Film Archive of the Czech Republic dedicated an issue of their review Iluminace to amateur cinema in Eastern bloc countries, publishing four original studies in Czech by researchers from former socialist states.  

Published by the Czech National Film Archive (Národní filmový archiv), the professional quarterly Iluminace has focused on the history, theory and aesthetics of film since 1989. The February 2016 issue parallels the conference on amateur film in former socialist countries, which was organized by the institution in Prague from October 30 to November 1, 2014, for the 24th meeting of INEDITS

All the articles address the fertile relationship between amateur and professional creative processes with certain aspects of a country's film industry being highlighted, or an individual amateur filmmaker's work explored. Despite the specificities of each country,  the communist model with its centralized system of management resulted in methods of amateur film production and exhibition being very similar from one area to another.

Maria Vinogradova's study (Socialist Movie Making vs. Gosplan. Establishing an Infrastructure for the Soviet Amateur Cinema) describes the slow process of how amateur activities were integrated into the soviet film hierarchy. In particular, she explains how the political and economic conditions in the Soviet Union brought about developments that were very different from what went on in central and western Europe – one example being the use of the 35mm format, very seldom used by amateurs in the West (her paper is downloadable in English on her Academia profile page, after registration on the platform).

Melinda Blos-Jáni (Excavating Amateur Films from Socialist Romania. Making Sense of Cine-amateur History Through Oral Histories and Educational Handbooks) traces the history of amateur filmmaking over three generations of the Haáz family from the city of Cluj in north-west Romania. She also reflects on the importance of oral history as an archival source, its specific characteristics and the need to compare information collected in this way with other historical sources. Today, she invites readers to discover the English version of her text, downloadable on this page.

Veronika Jančová (A Semi-Professional or a “Professional Amateur”? Filmmaking between Amateurism and Professionalism) focuses on the little known history of corporate film studios in Czechoslovakia and on the production of industrial films which blend aspects of amateur and professional film production.

A study by Kateřina Svatoňová ((Non)professional Family Experiments with Family. Films (of Jaroslav Kučera) as an Example of Artistic Practice) focuses on the home movie, specifically in the very unconventional form arising from the personality and professions of the creator of the filmed material – Czech cameraman Jaroslav Kučera (Daisies, dir. Věra Chytilová, 1966; All My Good Countrymen, dir. Vojtěch Jasný, 1968). The authoress describes the manner in which Kučera’s work with home movies as an atypical filmmaking product differs from that of less erudite home movie filmmakers from a formal perspective, balancing on the edge of professional and experimental film.

Jiří Horníček
Národní filmový archiv