New adventures of independent film in CR IIWritten by Andreas Kreuzer
What's an amateur film? Most people would be hard-pressed to give answer to this simple question. Are those the people who record family video, creators who attempt to create something close to a movie or even non-artists who create pictures which are not even worth mentioning due to their low quality? The etymological origin of this word might reveal the positive character but in context with the current social condition and due to the Anglo-Saxon culture's influence in our country this word has all but lost its true meaning.
If we want to understand the craft which was for the past five decades defined as amateur film, we have to start at the beginning. Maybe it was a play of fate that the first appearance of the word amateur in conjunction with someone who is not being paid and does something out of pure love for the activity. The thrilling place of the horse races has not only became the birthplace of the invention of motion picture by Eadweard Muybridge but also a place to first to name a man an "amateur". That means the one who went into the race for the pure interest and love for riding. And then it started to apply to the film craft as well. Everywhere in the world the enthusiasts are right there after the commercial and independent cinematography. These men and women create film in their free time as a hobby. It is not therefore truly a form of art but rather using cinematography as a means to capture some event, usually in the spirit of some descriptive documentary.
So that is also an amateur film. A term, which is better known only to the more knowledgeable among us, began to form throughout the World War era until the beginning of the 21st century. It came through a whole lot of different milestones marked mostly by technological advancement in picture and sound recording. The Czechoslovakian political regime had the biggest influence on the amateur film as we know it today because it gave the amateur film a specific signature and strictly dictated all the would-be amateur film makers the conditions of its existence. How did it happen that our so-called people's production had such activity and support compared to the west? Besides all the restrictions implied by the government, including restricting people's freedom and cultural development, there was a monopoly law. This law strictly prohibited paying salary to any non-professional involved in film making. The main effect was that the government specifically separated people interested in film into two groups. This brought a change in the behavior of both the groups. While the group of professionals supported by the government lived in peace knowing nobody from the wide populace of other film makers would not threaten their position, even the most talented artists among the ordinary people could not get into the proper film making business. And we all know the consequences of a regulated non-even competition field. That is what has happened to the Czechoslovakian film.
In practice it meant that people who wanted to express themselves in artistic form had to start studying on film school and submit to the regime or simply join the amateur film movement, publish their films on heavily regulated exhibitions because there was simply no other way. This definition already showed that production meant for people was regulated by the state. Its mission was dictating taste, censorship and even persecution of differently thinking artists.
Structure of amateur film
It is necessary to say that amateur film and its presence was spread mainly among the authors who identified themselves with this movement. Many film competitions and workshops were held for them by given county culture centers led by a delegated methodist. The film makers themselves gathered in clubs which again were led by the culture centers. The basic idea was to showcase the movies for each other, have them evaluated and criticized and share the experiences with handling the complex film medium. Members of these clubs co-organized these various competitions which awarded awards and helped the film makers develop their skills through workshops. These workshops presented experienced authors, semi-professionals, usually from Krátký film Praha, FAMU or Filmová studia Barandov. Unfortunately, many professionals didn't have interest in this movement or even a good opinion on it. Mass media overlooked it as well.
However, there were some who showed admiration for amateur society for its pure passion and free thinking for expressing oneself in an original way. But mostly the amateur film found itself on the fringe of interest. It was cut off from public light and celebrated no interest or publicity. It lived its own life in a limited world. As it became apparent from the claims of the employees, the government cared for the field very responsibly; the financial budgets were much more stable and the amount of money to support this kind of cinematography was even higher than today. The whole environment was controlled non-democratically, just like the whole society. The monopoly and total discrimination of creative individuals wanting to realize a film their own way was interwoven into everything. Such thoughts and people were in a dead end. We completely missed a thrilling dogma of film democracy saying that everyone can make a film when having enough energy and resources. And we can't stress enough that the world's cinematography would be noticeably poorer without such authors.