- Private Century (2005-7)
Home movies are often incorporated into documentary films, yet rarely are feature-length films and television series composed entirely from them. Given that the content of home movies may be disjunctive or incomplete in their construction of a formal narrative, it is not surprising that most home movies remain, simply, as home movies. Valuable in their original form as personal documents of private or local histories, home movies need not conform to any standards of commercial motion picture production. Yet, within the context of formal production and presentation, the private histories recorded in home movies can potentially offer great insight, elaborating the broader public histories of which they are a part. Czech documentary filmmaker Jan Šikl balances the relationship between home movies and narrative as he engages the private with the public in his ambitious project Private Century (2005-7). An experiment in formal technique, found footage, personal memory, and narrative, Private Century is an eight-part series of films constructed entirely from home movies, family photographs, letters, diaries, and personal stories of Czech families from the 1920s to the 1960s. What results is an intimate look into the lives of those on screen and a writing of twentieth-century Czech history through images and voices of individuals who experienced it.
Private Century was coproduced between Šikl's production company Pragafilm and Czech public broadcasting service Česká televize. The series of films premiered on Česká televize beginning in 2005. Since airing, the films have been made available in both streaming and DVD formats.1 Facets Video released a two-DVD set in the United States in 2009, encoded as dual-layered NTSC disks containing four episodes per disk. Each of the eight episodes is fifty-two minutes long, with a mix of color and black-and-white footage. Despite the variety of source materials, the image quality of the video is superb, capturing the depth and details of the film grain and color as well as scratches and signs of aging. The video is presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio and captures the full frame of the source materials. While signs of interlacing are apparent in the video transfer, they do not detract from the image quality. The narrations on the audio tracks are in Czech, with English subtitles burned into the encoded video, leaving no option to turn them off. While the set would have benefited from such supplementary features as additional home movies, stories, historical accounts, or making-of features, unfortunately, there are none. A booklet includes brief notes about the making of the films, a biography of the director, and a condensed timeline of major events in twentieth-century Czech history, along with notes outlining when and where some of the events presented in Private Century fit into this timeline.
Compiling the footage over a long timeline, director Jan Šikl began this project in the 1990s. After working as a director at animation studio Kratky Film Praha for several years, Šikl formed his own production company, Pragafilm, in 1991. With this company, he produced documentary series for Czech television and, in 1992, established the Private Film History Archives. This organization collects home movies, photographs, written artifacts, and other related materials. Additionally, the organization offers free video transfers and return of original [End Page 159] materials to owners, if so desired and agreed. In a discussion following a screening of Private Century at MoMA, Šikl explains the filmmaking process.2 He notes that a friend encouraged him to start his collection of films in the early 1990s, yet he had no initial plan or purpose in collecting. When transferring film footage to video for families, Šikl found that clients would often leave the original film stock with him. Over the years, Šikl sorted through a large quantity of collected footage, identifying as much as he could. He selected particular films and then sought out living persons associated with them to expand on their stories. Šikl interviewed many of these individuals, collecting between twenty and thirty hours of stories and recollections, which were incorporated into the films. From these...