Prague documentaries have a huge amount to cover – political revolutions, religious revolutions, cultural revolutions and all the great writers, filmmakers, dissidents and martyrs that rise from such a extreme atmosphere. These following documentaries not only cover the last 100 years, but hopefully leave you with the thirst to discover more.
Bohemia Docta or The Labyrinth of the World and the Lusthaus of the Heart (A Divine Comedy (2000, Karel Vachek)
Karel Vachek should write a book on how to make a documentary fascinating, edgy and awe inspiring. That is if he hasn’t already made a documentary about that very subject. In this film, with a name too long to have to type again, he documents both past and present Czech heroes with a collage of shots of Czech castles, the Czech countryside and that most favorite of Czech vegetables – the mushroom.
Nazi Hunters: Killing Reinhardt Heydrich (2010)
On 27th May 1942 Jan Kubis and Jozef Gabcik shot dead the Nazi official Reinhardt Heydrich in the Prague district of Liben. It was no random shooting. From their base in London, the exiled Czech government had been planning to assassinate the unofficially named hangman, but officially named Protector of Bohemia for months.
Oratorio for Prague (Jan Nemec, 1968)
One wonders how Jan Nemec, the Enfant Terrible of the Czech New Wave in the 60s, managed to get this documentary made. It is the only footage available of the Soviet Invasion in 1968 – a fact that would have put his life in serious danger.
John Simpson Returns to 1989- Episode 2 (2009)
In this BBC radio documentary John Simpson talks to the key players of the 1989 Velvet Revolution. It is one of the few documents of the event currently available in English.
Journey-to-Prague (1987, David Cherniack)
One wonders how lucky Otto Lowy really felt. Yes he escaped the holocaust at 17 when his mother put him on a train out of Czechoslovakia in 1939, but it was at the sacrifice of his entire family. This film documents one of many of this now successful Canadian citizen’s visits to Prague – his home city.
Franz Kafka (Piotr Dumala, 1992)
This is a short, 16 minute, animation film of Kafka’s private diaries. Like Kafka’s writing it is dark, symbolic and despite its absurdity somehow rooted in reality.
King by the Grace of God: the Spirituality of Charles IV (2012, Jolana Matejkova)
Charles IV ruled over Bohemia during what is known as their golden period (1346-1378). He oversaw the opening of such Prague landmarks and institutions as Charles University and the Charles Bridge.
Vera 68 (2012 Olga Sommerova)
Anyone with any knowledge of the Olympics has heard about the Tommy Smith and John Carlos’ black power salute during the playing of the American national anthem at the 1968 Olympics. But how many people have heard about Czech gymnast Vera Caslavska, the most successful Czech athlete of all time, turning her head away during the playing of the Czech national anthem? Initially it cost her her career, but after the fall of Communism she first became one of President Havel’s advisors and then President of the Czech Olympic Committee.
Citizen Havel (2008, Pavel Koutecky)
Before they became the leaders of their country most Presidents had careers in the army, politics and business. Before Vaclav Havel was Czech president, he was a philosopher, dissident writer and a leading voice in the Prague Spring and the Velvet Revolution. In between he spend most of his time either in prison or writing plays.
Eye Over Prague Jan Kaplisky (2010, Olga, Spatova)
If Jan Kaplisky was delighted when the Prague authorities chose, his design – a cross between a witch’s hat and an octopus – to become the new Czech national library, then he was livid when they stopped the project due to outside pressure. The Czech President Vaclav Klaus went as far as saying that, if he had to, he was willing to physically stop its construction. This film documents Kaplisky’s struggles to get his design approved.
Private Universe (2013, Helena Trestikova)
Just imagine what your typical Czech family has experienced over the last 70 years – German occupation, Communism, or more to the point Stalinism, the Prague Spring, neo-Stalinism, the Velvet Revolution and capitalism. As this documentary shows, within the family unit, such extreme experiences have created both distance and closeness.