The political and social upheavals of 20th-century Czechoslovakia—war and occupation, the twin specters of Nazism and Communism, the Velvet Revolution—have never been more intimately rendered than in Jan Sikl’s landmark eight-part series Private Century. Composed entirely of family home movies, still photographs, letters, and diaries dating from the 1920s to the 1960s, Private Century explores, in Chekhovian fashion, how sweeping historical events transform the private lives of ordinary people, and how small domestic pleasures can crystallize into profound and enduring memories. A prosperous farmer, an ethnic German citizen of Czechoslovakia, loses his land and his birthright after the 1938 Nazi occupation of Sudetenland; émigrés of the Russian intelligentsia, cast out by Stalin, take root and flourish in Prague; two ambitious artists, a sculptor and a composer, pledge themselves to the Communist State and cause their families to suffer. Sikl deepens the work’s psychological complexity by having surviving members comment on their family histories, and also through the use of image and sound in counterpoint—for example, a 1940s Czech rendition of “Stormy Weather” accompanies scenes from an ill-fated wedding. The exhibition opens on March 9 with Sikl and Ivan Passer in a special Modern Mondays conversation and screening.
Organized by Joshua Siegel, Associate Curator, Department of Film. This exhibition is supported by The Czech Center, New York. Special thanks to Facets Multi-Media and Irena Kovarova.