Slovak Films in Oberhausen before 1991
Until 1990, films from the Koliba Studios in Bratislava were listed as films from the ČSSR. In Oberhausen, too, no official distinction was made as to whether a film came from the Czech or Slovak part of the republic. Yet the management of the Short Film Festival was well aware that different cinematic styles were developing in Prague and Bratislava and that there was internal competition between the studios. Over the years, Oberhausen developed a nuanced festival diplomacy in the selection process for films from the ČSSR, which in retrospect appears to be an important contribution to an independent Slovak film history. An essay by Martin Kaňuch, archive documents from Bratislava and Oberhausen and two films from the spring years of 1968 and 1969 make up the first edition of re-selected Dossier - an online format that opens up new perspectives on the history of the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen and will be continued at regular intervals.
Fortress – Essay by Martin Kaňuch
‘Art should be a fortress
where the last reasons to live are defended.’
by Martin Kaňuch
In June 1969, almost a year after the Warsaw Pact occupation of Czechoslovakia, one of the last free, and until then regular evaluation meetings of filmmakers, all members of the Slovak section of the professional organisation SLOFITES (part of the nationwide Association of Film and Television Artists, FITES) was held. Before the discussion, director Eduard Grečner gave a presentation entitled ‘Who Are We? Where Do We Come From? Where Are We Heading?’ The title is an obvious reference to Gauguin's famous painting from Tahiti (1897), ‘where a life stricken painter took refuge from civilisation to think about mankind.’ Besides an evaluation of the 1968 feature film production, Grečner's contribution presented a concise summary of contemporary reflections on freedom of creation, an artist's relationship with society, peripeteia of post-war film development in Slovakia, and goals and limits of filmmaking set primarily by the communist regime. Thinking critically and speaking openly represented a unique and extremely demanding artist´s mission in such a reality. Therefore, the words of literary critic and translator Jozef Felix became the core of Grečner's reflection. In the fortress of art, in Slovakia of the late 1960s, what was defended above all was dignity of man, ‘not as a slogan, but as an individual’.
The Year 1953 marked the death of Joseph V. Stalin and Klement Gottwald, the first Czechoslovak communist president. The film studios at Koliba in Bratislava, still under construction, began operating in September 1953. At the same time, the first graduates of FAMU, the only film school in the Czechoslovakia (established in 1946), started to return from Prague to work at Koliba Studios. Every adept of film directing had to pass an initial test of professional skills and loyalty in the documentary film studio. In the second half of the 1950s, the first contacts with the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen (founded as Westdeutsche Kulturfilmtage in 1954) played a crucial role in the creative emancipation of Slovak filmmaking. Already in 1958, the first Slovak representative at the festival, director Štefan Uher, was impressed by the avant-garde potential of short film, as it ‘deepens and expands creative practices in the true depiction of reality’. In addition to Oberhausen, festival trips to other neighbouring countries, especially to Leipzig and Krakow, helped filmmakers and film critics see through the false, staged depiction of the undaunted building of socialism, to use the metaphor of that era, and enabled them to look into the forbidden ‘thirteenth chamber’, i.e. into the true depiction of life, to see ‘reality without rose-tinted glasses’. The German film critic Hans-Joachim Schlegel retrospectively identified this journey of emancipation of documentary cinema as ‘a history of subversive self-liberation’, in which the notion of subversiveness did not refer only to ‘openly offensive anti-regime films’, but to filmmaking rejecting uniformity and servitude.
However, the problem of short film in Slovakia was its provinciality, poor presence at film festivals and creative confrontation with other filmmakers abroad, and its ignorance of the jolts in documentary and short film. The film critic Pavel Branko (1921–2020), editor of the magazine Film a divadlo (Film and Theatre), who specialised in international as well as domestic documentary and short film production, began to play a key role as an active festival explorer in the late 1950s. He used to return to Oberhausen regularly, the festival being one of the few places behind the Iron Curtain which, due to its ‘neighbourly’ profile, was accessible to delegations from the socialist countries. He selected and commented on films from the programme that were to inspire people at home—not thematically, but rather in terms of cinematic expression (dominance of the image, direct sound, searching for their counterpoints, avoidance of pathos and superiority of voice-over). Branko unveiled the lag of Slovak film work in the effectiveness of argumentation, at the level of imaginativeness or poetization, and in general in the ‘orchestration’ of all components of the film. He did so not only in published texts, but also in papers and discussion contributions during internal evaluations of the work or at working meetings of filmmakers. Only a few film critics in Slovakia were able to smuggle so many observations and knowledge back into the country.
The Koliba Studios in Bratislava, one of the proclaimed fortresses of art, are in fact (geographically) not too far away from the fortress of imprisonment in Leopoldov. Some documentary filmmakers from the studios began to stand out as early as in the late 1950s (as Grečner recalls in the aforementioned SLOFITES presentation, referring to the old High Tatras saying that ‘lightning strikes only the rocks that stick out’), and started provoking by subverting ‘ready-made ideas’ (pensée toute faite; Charles Péguy) on which the official, centrally planned cinema was built. Filmmakers who had the courage to be critical of a one-dimensional vision of reality, uniformed consent,and servitude of art, were threatened with blitz redeployment from the fortress of creation as the Felixian last refuge, i.e. Koliba, to the fortress of imprisonment as the last post, i.e. Leopoldov. The filmmaking output characteristically reflected this strong link between the regime's fortresses. A case in point is the fate of Leopoldovská pevnosť (The Leopoldov Fortress, 1968), a film by Ladislav Kudelka. His work from the 1960s evidently attracted the most attention from media/press supervision, provoking controversy, power obstructions, and bans. Kudelka's position as an ‘oppressed’ filmmaker was later confirmed by the Slovak contribution to the special programme of ‘forbidden films’ in Oberhausen in 1990, half of which were films directed by Kudelka himself (Obec plná vzdoru / A Village Filled with Defiance, 1969; Intolerancia / Intolerance, 1969; Leopoldovská pevnosť). In the 1960s, Kudelka was focusing on taboo social issues closely linked to the repressions of the founding phase of the regime (wrongs committed during collectivisation, wrongdoings against churches, abuse of justice, and rehabilitation of political prisoners). Throughout the 1960s, he was fascinated by the most sensitive area of the totalitarian regime—correctional facilities. First, he dealt with youth delinquency issues and practices of their re-education in Zlé deti? (Bad Kids?, 1963). In the summer of 1968, however, he made a film in Leopoldov, the regime's ‘most representative’ correctional facility. There, his views were expanded significantly, and he became socially involved. Conversations with former prisoners about harsh conditions of detention caused a serious political scandal. A communist politician convicted during the war, a left-wing Jewish intellectual, one of the key players in the Prague Spring, and a former minister of the interior of the fascist First Slovak Republic were among those who spoke in front of the camera. Giving them a voice meant risking the film itself to be condemned to silence. After the occupation, Kudelka's ‘revelation pathos’ brought not only fears of possible regret and nostalgia (for the first independent republic), but also fear of unearthing the war past of various Party officials.
The second solely prison-themed short film, a memento of the period's reflection on crimes and legal distortions from the 1950s, was a feature film by Petr Solan …a sekať dobrotu… (...And Toe the Line...,1968), which still made it to Oberhausen in the spring of 1969. Solan approached the film as an experimental reconstruction of a real-life case and shot it in a real-life prison in Nitra. He was inspired by the personal experience of Lenka Reinerová, a novelist from Prague writing in German (she was imprisoned for 15 months by the State Police, without any reasons, and was rehabilitated in 1964). After release, she perceived the whole world as a prison (‘I will never get rid of them’) where she had to ‘toe the line’ until the end of her days. Both Kudelka and Solan unmasked this only perspective of living in fear and numbness from various angles. The core themes of both films, criticism of the regime's past failures, and the issue of rehabilitations (of political prisoners) were tabooed again after the occupation.
The process of rehabilitating filmmakers harmed by the regime (through censorship and other administrative interventions) failed from the very beginning. Many of them ‘toed the line’ out of fear and did not even respond to the calls of the SLOFITES rehabilitation committee (established in June 1968, last sessions in January 1969). At the SLOFITES conference, held already in October 1968, only two out of thirty invited filmmakers admitted to feelings of injustice. The growing unacceptability of these film topics was characteristically reflected in the state control of film submissions at film festivals, especially Western ones. In the spring 1969, a representative selection of Slovak short films was to be presented in Oberhausen: Ideály (Ideals), Čierne dni (Black Days), Tryzna (The Wake), Fotografovanie obyvateľov domu (Photographing the House-Dwellers), Zbehovia (Deserters), and ...a sekať dobrotu…. Tryzna, dedicated as a last farewell to Jan Palach, was withdrawn from the competition and its screening was banned by the central management of Czechoslovak State Film (ČSF) in Prague. Solan's film was sabotaged in a certain way as well. It was submitted into competition without any subtitles (actually without a dialogue list), without any promotional material and thus, in accordance with regulations, should have been rejected. In his festival report from Oberhausen, SLOFITES secretary Ján Szelepcsényi took note that the film was ‘almost against our will’ saved by the German film critic Klaus Koch, who prepared the dialogue list and ‘synchronized the film live’.
At SLOFITES, Dušan Hanák had already complained about similar festival counter-policies several times in previous years. His film Prišiel k nám Old Shatterhand (Old Shatterhand Came to See Us, 1966) was withdrawn from Karlovy Vary and Oberhausen competitions by the central director of ČSF Jiří Poledňák for ‘ideological reasons’. Hanák's provocation using hyberbolization (contrast of reality and music) presented the country as an enclosed backward reservation way too obviously. Despite Hilmar Hoffmann's and Will Wehling's efforts to include this ‘excellent film’ in the festival programme, the film did not make it to Oberhausen in the end. The discriminatory approach of the central director in Prague similarly affected Štefan Kamenický's Zakliata dolina (Cursed Valley, 1966), another testimony to backwardness, this time in the remote regions of eastern Slovakia. Oberhausen’s interest is proven by the rich correspondence with the festival in the SLOFITES archive. Both films’ subversiveness consisted in a critical stance towards the propaganda of progress and prosperity, while the country had officially declared the achievement of the goals of socialism already in 1960 with a new constitution and by renaming the country: Czechoslovak Socialist Republic.
Installation of ‘consolidated’, new managements in the film studios in Prague and Bratislava (beginning in November 1969) necessarily triggered classification of harmful film production from the so-called crisis period (1968–69), followed by further inspections and transfers of filmmakers within Koliba, shifts in their attitudes and entire profiles of their work. In the document ‘Analysis of the Activities of Slovak Film 1968–1970’, the nationwide central committee of FITES (Solan was one of its members) was identified as one of the main culprits, influencing thematic plans at Koliba with its ‘right-wing opportunist views’. The analysis states that ‘about 160 short films of all kinds were made in the studio’ during the crisis period. Director Martin Slivka later remembers, for Schlegel´s ‘Subversive Camera’, that the list of subversive and therefore banned films produced in 1968 read 66 films. It included films which were either completed in or whose first prints were already made in 1969 (Tryzna; Som prekliaty fotograf / I Am a Cursed Photographer; Roľníci / Farmers; Šibenica / The Gallows; Intolerancia, Obec plná vzdoru, Hokej ´69 / Hockey ´69; Moja teta Vincencia / My Aunt Vincencia; Symetrála / Symmetry Axis; Interview v metelici / Interview in a Blizzard). This whole part of the production was condemned mainly for its ‘anti-socialist character’. The analysis clearly identifies problematic anti-party, anti-socialist, or ‘poisonous’ anti-Soviet attacks in each film. Kudelka's Leopoldovská pevnosť crossed all the lines with the statement of a former fascist prominent who dared to ‘give lesson in ethics’ to communists.
Other films were condemned for their apoliticism, subjectivism, escapism, decadence, artisticity, or formalism (Som prekliaty fotograf, Šibenica), inclinations for which the analysis blamed the influence of national leadership and national sections of the FITES, which it described as a ‘political organisation’ and a ‘pressure group’. The aim of the filmmakers was to court ‘fashionable worldwide reputation’ and success at Western film festivals, which the association inadequately overestimated. The management of Koliba saw a direct relationship between appreciation of the films in the Western world and the degree of their criticism or unmasking of the regime.
The return to the ‘dictate of the Party’ and attributes of the Marxist aesthetics in filmmaking lead to a revival of making corrective films, known since the late 1950s. The aim was to make ideologically exemplary corrections on the very same subject. Koliba's new management returned to this practice after the Soviet occupation, when in the first normalisation years it decided to ‘rework’ short films from the crisis period,  correct the films which had not made it to cinemas or festivals due to their harmful content. In a broader context of post-war development and degree of Slovak film culture, it was generally related not only to the initial absence of building a film archive, but also to the respect for the archived materials. All source materials and prints were stored by individual studios. Cutting from duplicate negative, original negative, or film prints of a film that was an interesting source of footage, or where traces of the past had to be erased, was a common practice (it saved money and time). The film heritage preservation was inferior to political needs, it therefore was all the easier to interfere with film material.
In 1972, filmmakers were given a chance to straighten themselves (practice of self-criticism), and the committee decided on the form of interference. If filmmakers refused to do so, the right to supervise film corrections was passed to a more willing colleague from the studio. Sometimes it was enough to replace the voice-over or cut out problematic shots. In some cases, however, entire corrected films had to be shot again. The film Roľníci (Farmers, 1969) by Jaroslav Pogran, which according to the ‘Analysis of the Activities of Slovak Film 1968–1970’ depicted a neglected socialist village welcoming the arrival of the life-giving ‘Czechoslovak Spring’, was replaced by the film Lazníci (Hill Farmers, 1971). In its opening credits, only professional advisers are listed, and the original filmmakers (director, cinematographer, editor, dramaturg) are mentioned only as ‘collaborators’. The film opens with a sequence of the last three minutes of Roľníci with a patronizing voice of the ‘new political commentary’ condemning the film as erroneous: ‘The film Roľníci, which you are now watching, was made in an era which disorientated many people. The film is marked by such tendencies. That is why, for good reasons, we had another look at the problem.’
However, the most sensitive were so-called occupation sequences (fragments with anti-Soviet inscriptions on the walls, shots and photos of armed forces in the streets, etc.). Július Matula recalls how programmers from Oberhausen selected his film Som prekliaty fotograf in early 1969. Into the experimental portrait of a young, non-conformist photographer, Matula incorporated photos from the occupation combining them with gunshots and a song by underground singer Karel Kryl. The discreditation campaign of the film began with its exclusion from the festival selection and even cutting out a sequence without the director’s consent did not save the film. ‘Then I took both original picture and sound negatives of the cut-out sequence from the editing room and kept them at home for more than twenty years.’ In 1991, Matula gave the film material to the Film Institute, but the film has still not been restored. Conditions in remote fortresses change at a snail’s pace.
The archival policy of the Oberhausen film festival—acquiring prints of prize-winning films—certainly kept the Koliba management on their toes. In 1986, the selection of films to go to international festivals, including Oberhausen, was decided by a 32-member Foreign Committee of the Czechoslovak Film in Prague, consisting of members of the management of all the film studios (Prague, Bratislava, Gottwaldov), FAMU teachers, editors-in-chief of film periodicals, dramaturges, and also a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party. However, from the beginning of the 1980s, the segment of Koliba production in the selections for Oberhausen was gradually replaced by increasingly daring student (VŠMU) and television production (ČST Bratislava). Different conditions for productions on campus brought to life Tri tony šťastia (Three Tons of Happiness, 1980), a film by Vlado Balco, who dared to go farthest by depicting a man without pathos, idealisation, heroism. Balco's film is a portrait of a scrap collector who is not a role model at all, but an authentic, free man who decided to live with his family on the fringes of society. Not a medallion of lost and ugly life, but a cinematic testimony to a life choice, which after receiving an award in Oberhausen could not remain hidden or tampered with.
Subversive films from the late 1960s documenting the regime's crisis are followed by parables about its agony in the years of 1988–89. Fero Fenič first visited Oberhausen in 1985 with Batromijov dom (Batromij´s House), the story of a woodcutter who lives with his family in the easternmost house of Czechoslovakia in harmony with nature and with the horses he loves. The same year, he was fired from Koliba for political unreliability and anti-socialist activities. He moved to Prague where, in the spring of 1988, he made Vlak do dospelosti (Train to Maturity). He takes a train journey with young recruits (including ‘anti-social elements’ such as punks, skinheads, and a young Romani) entering a compulsory two-year military service. Some are dissatisfied and angry, others apathetic. As one of them says, ‘We are such a confused generation.’ Perhaps it’s because they were all born a year after the occupation. Not a single one of them on that night train is sure what fortress they are actually going to defend.
Following a year-long approval process, Train to Maturity entered theatrical distribution and film festivals after the fall of the fortress/regime in November 1989. It was among the first films to be presented abroad in a selection of recent Czechoslovak shorts at Oberhausen festival in the spring of 1990. Together with a special programme of forbidden Czech and Slovak films from the 1960s, it symbolically confirmed the impregnability of the fortress of art.
Translated from Slovak by Rastislav Steranka.
Appendix: Slovak Films in Oberhausen Competition until 1990
Bolded titles signify films of which a print is kept in the archives of the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen.
Upre roma (Forward, Romanies!), Dimitrij Plichta, 1955
Kuchári (Cooks), Ivan Húšťava, 1963
Rozhovor (Interview), Otakar Krivánek, 1963
Kam nechodil inšpektor (Where the Inspector did not go), Ladislav Kudelka, 1964
Učenie (Practice), Dušan Hanák, 1965
Zakliata dolina (Cursed Valley), Štefan Kamenický, 1966
...a sekať dobrotu... (...And Toe the Line...), Peter Solan, 1968
Ideály (Ideals), Štefan Kamenický, 1968
Fotografovanie obyvateľov domu (Photographing the House-Dwellers), Dušan Trančík, 1968
Rom, Ivan Húšťava, 1969
Socha (The Statue), Jaroslava Havettová, 1969
Lilli Marlen, Dušan Hanák, Peter Mihálik, 1970
Vrcholky stromov (Tree Tops), Dušan Trančík, 1972
Baločanky (Women from Čierny Balog), Viera Polakovičová, 1974
Kto vymyslel koniec sveta? (The One who made up the End of the World), Vladimír Kavčiak, 1975
Bubeník Červeného kríža (The Red Cross Drummer), Juraj Jakubisko, 1977
Biela cesta vedie z osady (The White Road leads from the Settlement), Pavol Benca, 1978
Tri tony šťastia (Three Tons of Happiness), Vladimír Balco, 1979
Nedokonalosť svedomia (Imperfection of Conscience), Ladislav Halama, 1979
Kontakty (Contacts), Jaroslava Havettová, 1980
Svetlo na konci tunela (Light at the End of the Tunnel), Dušan Rapoš, 1980
...a narodí sa mesto (...and the city is born), Samuel Ivaška, 1980
Muž v oblakoch (The Man in the Clouds), Vladimír Balco, 1981
Nezavesujte, ste v poradí... – Sonda č. 11, 1981 (Please Hold on… – Probe no. 11, 1981), Dušan Rapoš, 1981
Príbeh jednej letnej búrky (The Story of One Summer Storm), Samuel Ivaška, 1982
Do pivnice (Down the Basement), Jan Švankmajer, 1983
Batromijov dom (The House of Batromij), Fero Fenič, 1984
Saso– Sonda č. 9, 1985 (Saso – Probe no. 9, 1985), Ľubomír Štecko, 1985
Boľavé desatiny (The Painful Tenths), Maroš Černák, 1986
Papradinový vŕšok (Fern Hill), Samuel Ivaška, 1986
...a niekto tu musí aj upratať (...and somebody's got to clean it up), Jozef Horal, 1987
Najlepšie roky života majstra Luptáka (The Best Years of Master Luptak's Life), Ľubomír Štecko, 1987
Ja neviem prečo (I Don´t Know Why…), Juraj Johanides, 1988
Atď. (Etc.), Kvetoslav Hečko, 1987
Šiel som dlhou cestou (I Have Come a Long Way), Michal Suchý, 1988
Deux ex machina, Samuel Ivaška, 1983
1990 / in „Forbidden Films: CSSR“ retrospective
Ideály (Ideals), Štefan Kamenický, 1968
Zasľúbená zem (The Promised Land), Štefan Kamenický, 1968
Leopoldovská pevnosť (The Leopoldov Fortress), Ladislav Kudelka, 1968
Intolerancia (Intolerance), Ladislav Kudelka, 1969
Obec plná vzdoru (A Village Filled with Defiance), Ladislav Kudelka, 1969
Tryzna (The Wake), Vlado Kubenko, Peter Mihálik, Dušan Trančík, 1969
 Jozef Felix (1913–1977) – Slovak literary critic, translator for French, dramatic advisor for theatre; motto quoted from the text Who are we? Where do we come from? Where are we heading? by E. Grečner, same source as in fn. 2.
 Slovenský národný archív, fond FITES [Slovak National Archive, SNA; FITES archive fond], box 31, Stenografický protokol z aktívu o tvorbe hraného filmu v roku 1968 [Stenographic minutes from a meeting on the feature film production in 1968]; Bratislava, 20.6.1969, p. 10.
Prehliadka v Oberhausene[Showcase in Oberhausen]. In: Film a divadlo 1958, no. 7, p. 15.
 Antonín Navrátil, Cesty k pravdě a lži. 70 let čs. dokumentárního filmu[Paths to Truth or Lies: 70 years of Czechoslovak documentary film]. Praha: NAMU 2002, p. 260.
 Hans-Joachim Schlegel (ed.), Podvratná kamera[The Subversive Camera]. Praha: Malá skála 2003, p. 32.
 Media/Press Supervision stands for censorship activities of the Headquarters of Media Supervision (aka Head Office of Press Supervision; HMS), a national body of the Ministry of the Interior (since 1953). Via test screenings and subsequent debate confrontations, telephone warnings, and correspondence, HMS used to control and correct print, film and other media outlets that could jeopardize the regime's image. Each finished film had to be shown to the HMS representatives, who granted a censorship permit. They often left the decision to other officials of the Party apparatus (Ideological Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Slovakia). ‘Their stamp represented a final decision about the fate of the film. [...] Most of the films, which didn’t get the HMS seal of approval were locked up in a vault, usually until the next thaw.’ Rudolf Urc, Traja veteráni za kamerou. Viktor Kubal, Vladimír Kubenko, Ladislav Kudelka[Three Veterans Behind the Camera. Viktor Kubal, Vladimír Kubenko, Ladislav Kudelka]. Bratislava: NCAU (aka SFÚ) 1998, p. 74.
 See section Verbotene Filme: ČSSR [Forbidden Films: CSSR]. In: Catalogue / 36. Internationale Westdeutsche Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen (19.–25. April 1990), p. 77.
 SNA, FITES, box 7, Stenografický protokol z aktívu SLOFITES [Stenographic protocol from the SLOFITES meeting]; Bratislava, 25.10.1968, p. 6 and 16.
 SNA, FITES, box 29, Cestovná správa zo študijnej cesty na DKF v Oberhausene [Report from a study trip to Kurzfilmtage Oberhausen]; 14.4.1969.
 SNA, FITES, box 12, list Dušana Hanáka [Dušan Hanák’s letter], 24. 3. 1967); list Hilmara Hoffmanna a Willa Wehlinga [Hilmar Hoffmann and Will Wehling’s letter]; 28.6.1967.
 SFÚ, Ústredie Slovenského filmu [SFI, Slovak Film Headquarters archive fond; SFH], 1971, Analýza činnosti Slovenského filmu v rokoch 1968–1970 [Analysis of the Activities of Slovak Film 1968–70], p. 18; unprocessed archive.
 Martin Slivka, ‘Podvratná kamera’ slovenských dokumentárních filmů[„Subversive Camera“ of Slovak Documentary Films]. In: H.-J. Schlegel (ed.), The Subversive Camera, p. 242.
 Ibid., p. 240.
 SFI, SFH, central director’s meeting 1972, notation from the 2nd collegium (31.1.1972); unprocessed archive.
 Stenografický protokol z aktívu o koncepcii Filmového ústavu v Bratislave [Stenographic minutes from the meeting on a conception of the Film Institute in Bratislava]. Bratislava: SFI 1968.
 Július Matula, Spomienka po rokoch[A Memory Years Later]. In: Václav Macek (ed.), Peter Mihálik 1945–1987. Bratislava: FOTOFO 1997, p. 12.
Documents & Images
Translations & Notes
Letter, 12th January 1967 (Slovak National Archive)
Dear Mr. Szelepcsényi,
Today, we again confirmed with the Czechoslovak Film Export in Prague that we would like to come to Czechoslovakia from February 13 to February 18.
We once again informed Film Export and the head of the short film studio, Mr. Zizka, about our request to travel to Bratislava, so that we can consider all scheduled Slovak films. As far as we are concerned, there should be enough time, if the Program Executive takes the last plane from Prague to Bratislava on Thursday evening, watches all scheduled films on Friday, and takes the first plane back to Prague on Saturday. Unfortunately, there is no time for a longer stay, since the departure in Prague is scheduled for Saturday at 11.50 AM.
We would greatly appreciate it if you also informed the head of the Slovak short film studio about our visit.
Again, we would like to draw your attention to the fact that we are very interested in the film “The Forgotten Valley” we watched last summer.
Please send our regards to all friends of the Oberhausen festival, in particular to Mr. Uher, Mr. Urc, Mr. Branko, and best regards to you,
Hilmar Hoffmann Will Wehling
Head of the Short Film Festival Program Executive
Letter, 20th February 1967 (Slovak National Archive)
Dear Mr. Szelepcsényi,
Upon our return to Oberhausen, we would like to thank you kindly for your hospitality in Bratislava. Once again, we would like to stress that we regret having had so little time. Besides, we hereby confirm our telegraph from today and kindly ask you to officially submit the short film “The Forgotten Valley” for the competition. The film will be screening as part of the Czechoslovak program. Regarding the film “Old Shatterhand Came to See Us”, it is your decision whether you still want to submit it now. We fear that subtitles would not do justice to the film’s spirit.
Today, we sent written invitations to the following filmmakers from Slovakia:
the director Stefan Kamienický (an invitation addressed to your association since we do not have Mr. Kamienický’s address.) Besides, Mr. Uher received an invitation which was sent to his private address. Furthermore, Ms. Agneša Kalinová representing FIPRESCIand Pavel Branko representing Film a divadlo will be there. Please get in touch with the association in Prague to be able to influence the composition of the special delegation, if necessary.
Thank you very much again and best wishes,
Hilmar Hoffmann Will Wehling
Letter, 6th March 1967 (archive of International Short Film Festival Oberhausen)
Bratislava, March 6, 1967
Dear Mr. Wehling,
I wish to thank you most warmly for inviting me to this year’s edition of the Short Film Festival Oberhausen. Besides, I am delighted that my film was invited to be part of the competition. When you were in Bratislava, I unfortunately was off to Piešťany for professional reasons, so that we could not meet in person. However, I hope we will have the opportunity to do so in Oberhausen.
I apologize for confirming my registration after the deadline, a little too late. I could not do it any earlier because I only received your letter on March 4. I was told that something similar happened to Mr. Uher who also received his invitation with a considerable delay. I hope that despite these circumstances, my registration will be accepted.
Thank you once again.
Letter, 31st March 1967 (archive of International Short Film Festival Oberhausen)
Bratislava, March 31, 1967
As already communicated by telegraph, I need to refrain from coming to Oberhausen. My trip was not endorsed or approved, respectively. I do not want to go into the reasons. You will hear about them from Ms. Agnes Kalinová and other participants from the CSSR anyway. So, I will have to miss the festival for the second time in a row, a pity. And I can only hope that there will not be a third time next year.
Obviously, I am still going to report on Oberhausen, they probably cannot prevent that. Ms. Kalinová will write on our behalf, and of course I will—as it has been well established—provide the clipping with a translation.
I wish you every success for this year’s festival.
from your friend,
Telegram with notes (archive of International Short Film Festival Oberhausen)
Gentlemen Hoffmann and Wehling,
The original title of Gesundbrunnen*is Voda cerstvosti and the letter c has a caron, the original title of Bürger mit Adelstiteln** is Obcane s erbem, also a c with a caron. As mentioned before, Konkurs unfortunately cannot even be screened abroad due to music licensing rights. We have already registered the five directors, Menzel was not included. Unfortunately, we have to inform you that the two Slovak films are no longer available due to technical reasons. We therefore ask you to exclude them from the competition. We deeply regret this. We really did our best.
Show H. H. [i.e., Hilmar Hoffmann]
These were the two most interesting films of the CSSR program.
* English title: The Water of Freshness
** English title: Citizens with a Coat of Arms
Letter, 24th March 1967 (Slovak National Archive)
Bratislava, 24 March 1967
Thank you for your letter, from which I understand that, if necessary, the Union's presidency will be involved in advocating (or defending) the film Prišiel k nám Old Shatterhand [Old Shatterhand came to see us] The film, which was evaluated at the filmmaker’s conference of FITES this year as the best Slovak documentary of the year, was withdrawn from the competition in Karlovy Vary by the central director without any explanation. It happened for so-called ideological reasons, as we later learned from a letter from the central director to comrade Štítnicky, in which he dogmatically denied the film any objective validity. On the part of comrade Poledňák, there was a misunderstanding of the basic position of the film, which by synthesising authentic elements with the counterpoint of the songs achieves the hyperboles it is supposed to provoke - to address problematic features of our reality, not to remove an uncomfortable film that expresses socially hurtful opinion. Leaving aside the personal distaste, I find that more than the work and profile of [Dušan] Hanák*, what is at stake is an unwarranted display of a lack of confidence in and a devaluation of the authority of the regional director in Slovakia, the Slovak approval bodies, including members of the ideological commission of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, the dramaturgy of Slovak documentary film, and the Slovak film critics, who have expressed their opinion on the film.
I feel personally offended by the disparagement of my civic and artistic opinion and by the strange way in which the film Prišiel k nám Old Shatterhand was withdrawn from the competition in Karlovy Vary and Oberhausen. I would be happy if the film could be pushed through to these film festivals at least next year. Thank you for your trust, which helps me in my future work.
*The original inexplicably reads, "Pavel Hanák". A joke? A slip? It seems undoubtful however that the sentence refers to the author himself, Dušan Hanák.
Letter, 28th June 1967 (Slovak National Archive)
Dear Mr. Szelepcsényi,
Finally, we find the time to write to you, now that the Oberhausen Short Film Festival is over. As you know, it took place without any screenings of Slovak short films. We deeply regret this, because we are absolutely convinced that with your two documentaries, the Czechoslovak program would have been much better.
Now we hear that “The Forgotten Valley” will be sent to the festival in Venice. So, there was a positive side to the film’s rejection after all. We are truly interested in showing the film at our festival next year, if the Ceskoslovensky Filmexport does not plan to send it to several festivals.
Do you think that you could provide the film in 1968?
Furthermore, we still think about the excellent film “Old Shatterhand Came to See Us” by Dušan Hanák.
However, excellent new films might be available by the beginning of 1968. [...]
(Zakliata dolina (The Forgotten Valley) became part of the Czechoslovak selection in Oberhausen in 1968, listed in the program with the German title “Das verzauberte Tal”, “the enchanted valley”. Prišiel k nám Old Shatterhand (Old Shatterhand Came to See Us) was never shown in Oberhausen.)
Letter, 11th February 1969
Bratislava, 11 February, 1969
Central Director of the SF [Slovak Film]
Bratislava – Koliba.
Dear comrade director,
the central committee of the Slovak Association of Film and Television Artists [SLOFITES], at its meeting on 7 February 1969, dealt with questions which had arisen in connection with the participation of Slovak cinema at the Short Film Festival Oberhausen.
The central committee of the Association unanimously agreed that the Short Film Festival Oberhausen is one of the most important short film festivals with distinctly progressive orientation given by the motto under which it is held. The opportunity to participate in the festival with a large collection of short films is a great opportunity for our national cinema to present itself at such a significant international forum. The line-up of films, as agreed upon with the festival's management representative Mr. Wehling / Ideals, Black Days, The Wake, Photographing the House-dwellers, Deserters, ...And Toe the Line / documents the commitment of our filmmakers to all issues of our social and artistic life, which affect the whole nation and filmmakers in particular.
We assure you, comrade director, that the central committee of the Association will, for these reasons, fully support your decision to send the above-mentioned films to the festival.
With comradely greetings,
Excerpts from Slovak press coverage on the XVth Oberhausen Short Film Festival, 1969, reprinted in the Oberhausen festival report 1969.
(Translated from German)
Literarny Zivot, Bratislava, April 17, 1969
“It is not about the award; I am just glad that the audience was quiet during the screening of my film,” said the young director of the film Elective Affinities Karel Vachek after the Czechoslovak program had ended. And he meant what he said. Not because he was being modest or because he has not been spoilt with international success before. Considering this year’s atmosphere at the former all so serious festival, an hour of silence was close to a miracle.
However, as mentioned before, his concerns regarding the audience were not unfounded. Because the spirit of protest among the German youth continuously manifested itself during the screenings and not as usually during the day or at night. The protests went far beyond banal whistling or stamping or maybe leaving the theatre to show one’s discontent. If this part of the audience was displeased with something, they shouted “He has to go!” accompanied by children’s whistles and trumpets which was still considered a modest reaction. And they were displeased with almost everything. Formal experiments—weak, better, or quite interesting ones—were commented with a loud “Boo, that’s just art”. They harshly rejected highly political films, as soon as the point of view presented on the screen was opposed to their own, even if it obviously did not correspond to the filmmaker’s personal opinion. Even Black and White, the surely imperfect attempt to analyze the Race Issue in our country by Krishna Iver Viswannath, an Indian guest student at the Prague Film Academy (FAMU), and Under the Star of David [Pod hvězdou Davidovou, dir. Jiři Svoboda, CSSR 1969], another FAMU film, which naively and sentimentally deals with the Jewish question in today’s Prague, were panned. These young people generally were particularly outraged when faced with sentimentality. However, often enough they lacked the patience to understand the gist of the film.
I must admit that I was seriously annoyed by the continuous audience activity which involved acts of intolerance, brutality, and obviously influencing the atmosphere in the theatre coming from those who claim to be driven by their willingness to combat manipulation of any kind. However, I do not dare to condemn this furious generation, particularly after the screening of the competition film From Riot to Revolution, [Von der Revolte zur Revolution oder Warum die Revolution erst morgen stattfindet, dir. Kurt Rosenthal, FRG 1969. Only the first half of this 60-minute film was shown in Oberhausen in 1969.] which powerfully shows the blind rage of West German police forces during their interventions against the student protests, and after the daily conversations with my tenant, a conservative, aging Teutonic widow who—based on second- and thirdhand information—got all worked up about the festival’s and young people’s lack of morality. It probably is the vicious circle of mutual misunderstanding, of callousness, which motivates some of the young people to become increasingly eccentric. The selection of 25 West German films was more interesting on the whole than the individual works. This proved that the nonconformist direction in filmmaking has a sound foundation here, that several directors head toward a new approach to reality, even if more than once their discoveries were old news or even outdated.
Considering where we are generally heading with our short filmmaking, we had undeniable chances in Oberhausen … Without the rather unlucky selection of FAMU films for the program and the unexpected weakening of our selection due to the withdrawal of the film The Wake, [Tryzna, dir. Vlado Kubenko, Dušan Trančík, Peter Mihálik, CSSR 1969.] which documents the events during the sad January week in an elegiac mood, our contribution to this cinematographically and intellectually very creative gathering could have led to an even more impressive result.
Radio Bratislava, April 9, 1969
Despite some objections in the international press, the festival in Oberhausen lives up to its reputation as a liberal and progressive event.
On the one hand, the festival is supposed to be a signpost for the status quo of international short film production, on the other hand, it is guided by socially committed films which break new ground regarding their form and content, and therefore promote film as a means of expression.
So, what does short film’s worldview in 1968 look like? Surely, there is no universal answer to this question. For me, the prevalent image of this experience first and foremost is Old Europe and the depiction of its turbulent social movements: last year’s student protests.
Well, and then … the Czechoslovak year of 1968 …
If I personally back these enthusiastic films, I cannot help but point out with satisfaction that the international jury in Oberhausen took enthusiastic decisions. To get the full picture, it must be added that shortly before the screening of the Czechoslovak program, we had to deal with quite an embarrassing situation. Due to an order by the Head of Czechoslovak Film, the film The Wakehad to be taken off the program. Most definitely, it was hard to relate to this decision because it caused far more harm than good and allowed for the creation of another myth—which was proven during the Czechoslovak press conference. Unfortunately, sometimes it seems as if those who decide on the screening or withdrawal of certain films are only familiar with a specific myth but not with the film itself.
The audience’s reactions were mostly emotional and temperamental. Surely because the audience was young, they had their own way of showing their feelings, without second thoughts, with no false politeness, but with a whole lot of fun due to whistles and trumpets, comments, and cheers. The audience applauds the dynamic progress of its time and the progressive goals that go with it. They whistle and hiss relentlessly at any glimpse of sentimentality; they harshly judge any cliché, any clumsiness, and any stiff phrase. However, shortcomings regarding form are tolerated if the film’s message is intellectually intense.
I am mentioning this because this young audience is a significant—and surely often described—co-creator of the Oberhausen festival. To put it bluntly, a collective member of the jury. Their reactions are observed, evaluated, and therefore taken into consideration. Besides, the audience is a qualified member who remains true to their values but reacts with relentless intolerance to any pose. It feels good to know that the art of the world—be it in Oberhausen or anywhere else in the young world—has a jury that includes these members. Maybe this is a good omen for the world in general.
Internal report, 14th April 1969, signed by Jan Szelepcsényi and Peter Solan. (Slovak National Archive)
from a study trip to DKF [Short Film Festival] in Oberhausen
From March 21–29, I attended as a part of the three-member delegation of the SLOFITES the Short Film Festival Oberhausen (West Germany). The delegation consisted of: Mrs. Katarína Hatalová (in charge of foreign exchange funds of the SLOFITES), Mr. Peter Solan and me (at the invitation of the festival director as a delegation to the films screened at the festival).
The festival brought an interesting look at the aesthetic developments in the field of short film, where it is possible to see bold experimentation in content and form, especially among young Germans, where, unfortunately, the result does not correspond to the courage of the intention. Even so, the enrichment of the means of expression of the short film can be observed in the partial results, especially in the area of color film. The way of dealing with color film material is characterized by the effort aiming at a dramaturgy of color – a new directorial-cinematographer moment (although not quite original in its original intention – see Blow up / Antonioni).
The collection of Czechoslovak films attracted deserved attention, which, however, was unnecessarily dramatized by the withdrawal of Tryzna [The Wake] from the competition and the ban on its screening. From the collection of Slovak films, the most significant success was Solan's TV short fiction film ...a sekat dobrotu [...And Toe the Line], which won two honorable mentions – one could say, almost against our will, if this will was to be demonstrated in the preparation for our participation in the festival. The film was submitted to the competition without subtitles, without corresponding dialogue list, without promotional material, and wasn’t even included in the program. The organizers included it only after the arrival of the delegation. We owe its success with the audience and the juries to a large extent to Mr. Klaus Koch, who edited the dialogue list and translated the film live.
Other Slovak films – Kamenický´s Idealy [Ideals] and Trančík´s Fotografovanie obyvateľov domu [Photographing the House-dwellers] – remained hidden to the audience with respect to their significance, since they depict realities which a foreign audience is not familiar with. On the whole – both in the jury’s evaluation and in the audience’s response – there is a constant inclination towards an engaged social documentary, as it is done especially by Yugoslavs and Hungarians, as well as a political documentary such as Spřízněni volbou [Elective Affinities]. (Spřízněni volbou (Czechoslovakia, 1968, dir. Karel Vachek) was awarded the Main Prize by the International Jury in Oberhausen in 1969.)
Comrades Hatalová and Solan returned home after the festival, I used my stay in Germany for a short visit to Nuremberg. On March 30–31, in the local radio archive I was granted an access to new works by the European avant-garde (especially K. H. Stockhausen, Bruno Maderna) as well as electronic compositions made at the Cologne Experimental Studio. This part of my stay was valuable in terms of study, especially in relation to my work on the sound and background noise of animated films, where I try to utilize synthetically stylized sounds (most recently in the film Dita na fronte [Dita on the Front]).
Bratislava, 30 April 1969
Please find the program materials from Short Film Festival Oberhausen enclosed.
Analysis of Slovak Film Activity in the Years 1968 – 70
Excerpts from the evaluation of short films
In the second chapter of the Analysis, dedicated to the evaluation of the production of short films and periodicals in Slovakia, it is stated, among other things, that: "In the years 1968 – 69 about 160 short films of all kinds were produced in the Short Films Studio. The vast majority of them are not objectionable, many of them politically engaged [...]. However, the Studio also produced films that need to be subject to criticism. Some of them were released in cinemas during 1968, others were withdrawn from distribution at the end of 1968 and during 1969 by the management of the Slovak Film Distribution Company, and some of them the management of the Short Films Studio canceled before their completion. On the whole, they can be divided into three sections: ..."
A) Theatrically released films /4 [films in total]
Black Days [Čierne dni] /Kudelka, Černák, Kamenický, Kováč – I. print, 12. 9. 1968/. As a special episode of the Week in Film. (Týzden vo filme: Slovak weekly newsreel produced under this title from 1945 to 1982.9 The film depicts the arrival of Allied troops on our territory in an authentic reportage form capturing the atmosphere of hysteria, full of invectives in both image and sound [in voice over].
The Wake [Tryzna] /Kubenko, Mihálik, Trančík – I. print, 6. 2. 1969/. Filmed on the occasion of Jan Palach's (Czech student who, in January 1969, set himself on fire on Wenceslas Square in Prague in protest against the oppression of the „Prague Spring“.) funeral, direct anti-party and anti-Soviet attack.
B) Finished films, not released theatrically /8 [films in total]
Photographing the House-dwellers [Fotografovanie obyvateľov domu] /Trančík – I. print, 2. 12. 1968/. An anti-socialist film, ironizing honest efforts of workers. The director of the film has just recently graduated.
The Leopoldov Fortress [Leopoldovská pevnosť] /Kudelka – I. print, 19. 9. 1968/. The filmmaker's attempt to promote the idea of rehabilitation turned out negatively, mainly because of the inappropriate and ill-thought-out inclusion of an interview with a fascist prominent, A. [Alexander] Mach.
I am a Cursed Photographer [Som prekliaty fotograf] /Matula – I. print, 30. 6. 1969/. The author indulges in fashionable "worldliness", revels in the cynicism and decadent bourgeois morality of certain groups of young people.
Farmers [Roľníci] /Pogran – I. print, 1. 9. 1969/. In a distorted view, the film shows an atypical, desolate village at a time when the right-wing forces were attacking all the achievements and gains of socialism in our country. The solution seen in the coming of the "Czechoslovak Spring" is anti-socialist demagoguery.
C) Unfinished films, production stopped /3 [films in total]
My Aunt Vincencia [Moja teta Vincencia] /Matula – August 1969/. The author panders to reactionary tendencies; his conception of Catholicism is quite mistaken.
Symmetry Axis [Symetrála] /Šinko – Autumn 1969/. The film denounces the uncritical cultural policy of the 1950s in the field of fine arts, but insults honest socialist artists in the process.
re-selected Dossier #1
FORTRESS – Slovak films in Oberhausen before 1991
Text: Martin Kaňuch
Editor: Tobias Hering
Translations: Lisa Woytowicz (from German), Rastislav Steranka (from Slovak)
Coordination: Katharina Schröder
Documents from Slovenský národný archív (Slovak National Archive, SNA), fond FITES, and the archives of International Short Film Festival Oberhausen.
Special thanks to Pavel Branko, Eduard Grečner, Marian Hausner, Rudolf Urc.
In memory of Pavel Branko (1921-2020).
International Short Film Festival Oberhausen
With the support from the Slovak Film Institute