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Weber State University’s department of history has been sponsoring film festivals for over 10 years with Greg Lewis as host. This year, the festival has a new focus: Czechoslovakia.
Lewis explained that Czech New Wave is widely recognized as an important movement in Cold War-era cinema that took place from 1960 to 1968. He also said many of the films present themes of love, loyalty, Nazism and communism.
“These themes are universal,” Lewis said. “In translation, they still speak to everybody.”
The Czech New Wave Film Festival had its first film showing in the series on Wednesday, Jan. 18th featuring Romeo, Juliet, and Darkness. The movie was directed by Jiri Weiss and released in 1960, which Lewis referred to as “the cusp” of the movement.
The film takes place in Prague during the Nazi regime and follows a young student named Pavel. He hides a young Jewish girl named Hanka from the Nazi authorities. The two fall in love while risking execution upon discovery. When others discover Hanka, she leaves and is presumably shot.
“A lot of the films in this movement use Nazism as a metaphor for Stalin-ism,” said guest speaker Brandon Hone. “Because this came out in 1960 and did not get censored, it opened the door for all of the other films.”
Hone said that Czech films focused on the communist system and how it inspired the directors of the time to try new things.
“As censorship started easing in the 1960s, it was a movement that allowed people to talk more freely, especially about communism itself,” Hone said.
Around 15 students and members of the community gathered for the festival kickoff. Diana Velis, resident of Ogden, came with her husband Nick and their daughter Kristina, a senior at WSU.
Kristina Velis said the family has been attending the department of history’s film festivals for years, including the Russian, Chinese and Soviet Propaganda festivals.
During the Q-and-A session, Nick Velis expressed his feelings about the film by saying, “The thing that is refreshing is that there is no commercial angle to the film. It is completely honest.”
Diana Velis echoed her husband and said that these types of movies can tell us much more than reading a book can. She described the film with words such as “exquisite” and “beautiful.”
“I thought the movie was stellar, five stars, just absolutely wonderful,” Velis said. “It was probably the best movie I have seen in these festivals.”
Three of the films featured were recognized at the Academy Awards in the 1960s in the Best Foreign Language film category. According to Oscars.org, Fireman’s Ball was nominated in 1969, The Shop on Main Street received an Oscar in 1966 and Closely Watched Trains received an Oscar in 1968.
Though recognized nationally, many of the Czech New Wave films were blacklisted by the government in Czechoslovakia. These include The Cremator, Fireman’s Ball and Valerie and Her Week of Wonders.
Lewis said that many were seen as indirect criticism of the government and some were not released again until the 1990s. He also said the films present an accurate picture of the time period.
“I think one of the best ways to put history in front of students, especially what may be considered an obscure history, is through film,” Lewis said. “History through film is a great way to be introduced to this culture.”
All guest speakers featured throughout the event have a connection to history. Greg Lewis, who has Ph.d in history and is a professor at WSU, has been hosting the film festivals since 1999. Brandon Hone, who has an M.A. in history, is a WSU alumnus and fluent in Czech. Shawn Clybor, who has a Ph.d in history and is a visiting professor at Utah State University, is an expert on the Czech New Wave movement.
The next film screening on Wednesday, Feb. 1st will feature The Shop on Main Street. Brandon Hone will introduce the film. All showings begin at 7 p.m. in the Shepherd Union Building Wildcat Theater.
All films are in the Czech language and include subtitles. Each session will include an introductory guest speaker, showing of the film and a Q-and-A session at the end. Light refreshments will be served, and all are invited to attend.
“It is a way to be exposed to history and culture in an exciting, emotional and intellectual way,” Lewis said. “It is an opportunity to view something that might stimulate your thinking and further enhance your knowledge.”