The Czech film tradition dates to the very beginnings of the medium itself, and the country’s film archive is among the world’s oldest. Yet the Czech Republic had no national museum dedicated to the art form. Five years ago, three film students set out to rectify that. Building on pop-up exhibitions, their NaFilM project now has a permanent home – though still undergoing reconstruction. NaFilM cofounder Terezie Křížkovská talks about how their dream to establish an innovative, hands-on, interactive National Film Museum became a reality.
“We were studying at the film studies department at Charles University in Prague, at the Faculty of Arts and Adéla Mrázová came up with this idea, called us and asked, ‘Did you ever think about the fact that we have no film museum in the Czech Republic?’ And she was right – there was nothing like that.”
“We started to travel together with the third friend and colleague of ours, Jakub Jiřiště – actually we were all three cooperating on a different research project dedicated to Eastern European sci-fi, so we started to travel a lot together to Hungary and Poland, because we had cooperation there, and we visited a few museums.”
“So, that’s how it all started. And we started to talk about our idea at the [film studies] department and we actually got a lot of support, even at the very beginning when we told them we would like to establish a film museum. I think they never believed it was going to happen – but they liked the dedication, and so they allowed us to open a seminar there.”
They didn’t want to crush your dreams straight away, right?
“I think they liked just the idea that we were active and wanted to motivate us to have our own project, so they allowed us to have a seminar at our department and invite different curators, historians and archivists, just to talk with them about the idea. What they thought about film museums in general; if it’s even a good idea to have a film museum or if they more think it’s something that can only be shown in a cinema.”
“It’s quite an interesting approach as well – there are people who believe that maybe the cinema is the best museum and it’s enough to just watch films in the cinema and not take them out of it. The final work of the seminar was to write a concept of a film museum.”
“That was when we got this idea to present it publicly and for exhibition – actually, the very first idea for the exhibition was that we would publish the concept and write about the concepts of other film museums and just present the idea, because we were historians and theoreticians, and we thought this was how we should do it.”
“But then we realised that was not going to work and we had to do the exhibits ourselves. And that was the best idea because it gave us a chance to get a lot of feedback on what we were doing, and if we were doing it right or wrong – and how to do it so it would work.”
What year were you in your studies at that point, in 2013?
“It was the second year of our Bachelor’s degree, but I and Adéla had already studied at different universities, so [film] was our second degree, and Jakub was one year ahead. We managed to finished the Bachelor’s while doing the project and now continue on. But it’s harder and harder as the project grows bigger. Jakub is actually the only one who has managed to finish his Master’s, and now he’s doing his PhD.”
I know you get some support from the Ministry of Culture. This will be a private museum though – it’s the ‘National Film Museum’ – but a private venture…
“Yes, the Ministry of Culture is supporting us and also the State Cinematography Fund gave a two-year grant, which gave us some kind of freedom. Because actually to fund the idea is very tiring because half of the year we spend just writing applications to different institutions, so it’s great to know that something is a little bit more secure.”
“We also get support from the Municipality of Prague now that we’ve found a great venue right in the centre of Prague that was abandoned – which was not being used for culture, which I think is a great pity for a space like this. So, we’re hoping that this will help us persuade the right people at the right places to help us with the funding as well. And we also have some European funding, from ‘Erasmus +’, which is more for – it started as a research project, and we have been cooperating with European partners since 2015 already.”
“We were also cooperating with the National Technical Museum, which has a collection on films and they don’t have space to really showcase it. In their building, there is a lot dedicated to photography, and then the very beginnings of how the still images began moving – and that’s about it. Maybe in the future there might be some possibility to cooperate a little bit more. But at the same time, there’s this problem – we are fighting with the fact that there will be just objects that you can’t really touch, can’t really try them.”
“In 2015, when we had part of an exhibition dedicated to sound, we had a few objects from the National Technical Museum there and we created animation videos that were made by students, and were introducing how this equipment influenced the history of cinema, which was quite a nice way to do so. But these were huge objects and we don’t have space for them right now! So, we think we might show the animations without them for now.”
“We would like to open by the end of the year. We managed to find a space, but it’s actually quite expensive. We have launched a crowdfunding campaign that should help us with the opening of the museum. It will last until the end of November and it’s a possibility to help us to open but also to get tickets for the film museum in advance, help us to buy wall paint or lights and become part of the museum as well.”
I saw on your website that for a 2,000 crown donation, you get your name on a chair. This is already sold out – but for 100,000 crowns, you can be a patron, right? What’s the range of options?
“Yes, unfortunately, the chairs are gone, but there are still lights, or you can one square metre of your paint here, or help us to fund one of the exhibits. And once it’s open, it will be quite fun, actually, to spend your time here. So you can also rent the museum for a private party or have a private screening in the little cinema downstairs.”
This building was designed by the architect Jan Kotěra. Could you tell us something about the history?
“The history goes way back to the beginning of the 20th century. Here was actually a music hall with some of the best acoustics in Europe because it was meant to be a concert hall. The grand opening was with Ema Destinnová. It was dedicated to culture originally. Here was also one of the very first scenes of the theatre of Jan Burian, called the D 34.
Jan Burian the famous comedic actor?
“Yes, exactly. The first underground plays started here in this building as well. And in the 1990s, there was Supraphon studio – they had a recording studio upstairs.”
Supraphon basically had the monopoly on recording music under Communism…
“Yes, they were the basically only ones where you could get music from. And there was a gallery for a little while – Jiří Švestka had a gallery upstairs, and then there was supposed to be an auction hall, but the owner went bankrupt. And from then it started to be a fitness studio, actually.”
Up until the fitness studio, it seems to have had exactly the atmosphere you would like for a film museum.
“Yeah, it’s a pity you didn’t see it earlier. When we first arrived here, it was already five years since the space had been abandoned. But before that it was a cosmetics salon and bodybuilding studio. So there were a lot of mirrors! So now were have to reconstruct it.”
And now we’re entering the room that will be the reception area?
“Yes, this will be the main entrance, so you will get your tickets here and also there will be a little coffee place, then the exhibits – the very first part will be dedicated to the pre-history of cinema, so we will have exhibits dedicated to how our eyes work and how they are able to perceive the moving image. It will be dedicated especially to Jan Evangelista Purkyně, the Czech scientist who was doing a lot of experiments with his sight, his eyes.”
“We will have some zoetropes that will show you not only the classic way how the zoetrope works, with the slits and the images inside, but we will have puppets and you’ll be able to turn on the strobe lights to see how it works.”
The individual film still that rotate and create the illusion of motion…
“Yes. It was the beginning of cinema. But to actually show how it was connected to cinema itself, we will build it using different projectors. Because what is quite unique about our museum is that we don’t have archival materials – we build the exhibits ourselves. We want people to touch the things, try them, and learn about film through the experience. So building things that you can control by hand and experience is very important.”
So, there won’t be too many ‘Don’t touch!’ signs around…
“No, no – that’s something that you won’t find here at all.”
“So, here will be a few projectors. There will be a special one that we build using an old 35mm camera. What’s unique is that we changed it in a way so that you can control it using a handle. And you can see how a film strip travels through a projector, and once how you start turning the handle, how the still images slowly become a moving image. We made it in such a way that you can see the rotating shutter and how it all works inside. So we really put an emphasis on educating about film…”
There won’t be any flammable nitrate film, though, I suppose?
“No – we are trying to avoid that. We discussed the building site also with the firemen, so everything should be safe.”
“Another part will be devoted to sound in film. This will be a little folio room, where everyone can try to make their own folios accompanying silent films. It’s quite nice because this is something that was actually done at the beginning of cinema when films were considered to be silent and people just wanted to have screenings with sound so they did it directly in the cinema, but it’s also used nowadays in post-production with a lot of movies, so we like to give people the insight that not everything we hear in the movies is actually what we see.”
And what will this room here be, next to the sound studio?
“Here we want to show how the first screenings were not only accompanied by music but also with a text. So here will be sort of a lecture like what was usually before the screening and telling the stories so that people could understand the film. There will be a hologram head accompanying a few films so you have an idea of what these very early screenings were like.”
And is that hologram of a real person?
“Yes, it’s actually a hologram of Alexander Hemala, a famous Czech lecturer who is well known especially from the 1990s from television. He was usually the one who introduced what movies you are going to see. So it is a kind of tribute to him.”
“Now we are in a part that we also introduced during our earlier exhibitions…
I was going to ask you about that – you had a couple travelling, pop-up, temporary exhibits before you found a permanent home. So, what are you keeping from those? What did you learn about what works?
“Yeah, that was actually the main point – to learn how to even work with the exhibitions because we had no experience before. And in 2015 we were in the Montanelli museum just under Prague Castle. There we already worked with sound, with avant-garde in exile, and we kept the topics and the ways people could interact with parts of the exhibition. But at the same time, it was the very first time we made something like an exhibition, so some things we later had to rethink and do a little bit differently. We had a huge folio room with really old reconstructed machines – for example, there was a huge wind machine – which we could never fit here. So there are a few things that will be different, but the idea will stay the same.”
“And then the second exhibition we opened by the end of 2016 and stayed there for a year and a half. It was more dedicated to the pre-history and the principles of the moving image. We again stayed with the avant-garde but changed it a little bit from what we had at the first one, and also had an animation. And these topics we will also keep. We were thinking about these exhibitions as the beginnings of the film museum. So we hoping that once we got a proper, bigger space, we can move everything in and add more stuff. And that’s what is actually happening here.”
“But now we are in a part that will actually be completely new. It will be dedicated to editing and how it changes how we perceive the moving image as much as sound does. We again created a special exhibit that is – how to say it? It works with analogue film, so we will have film reel that will be cut and you make your own edited version.”
So here in the editing room, will you also be showing bits from seminal, innovative films from editing history – I’m thinking Sergei Eisenstein …
“Yeah, we definitely would like to work especially with his montage in film, which is really interesting; how you can build new meanings through a montage of images. That’s something that we would definitely like to introduce here.”
“And now… We will enter the topic of Czech film avant-garde from the 1920s. And actually there is this connection with Eisenstein – but we would like to introduce it more as the world of imagination and re-imagination. There will be a part we call Imaginary Cinema. It’s actually quite an interesting way to introduce people to Czech film avant-garde from that time, who really loved film and were influenced by it, but at the same time, most never actually shot a film but were only writing scripts. So, instead of going to the cinema you should just read the script and imagine your own according to it. There will be a few films introduced this way that you would have to imagine yourself.”