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MoMA Announces Two Film Exhibitions Celebrating Influential Czech Filmmakers
Soukromé Století (Private Century) (2007) Directed by Jan Sikl. Credit: filmmaker.

NEW YORK, NY.- The Museum of Modern Art will screen the works of two very different yet equally original filmmakers: Ivan Passer, a master of the Czech New Wave who then went on to create quintessentially American films, and Jan Sikl, one of the Czech Republic’s most promising new documentary filmmakers. The two exhibitions will be presented from March 6 through 15 in The Roy and Niuta Titus Theaters. Ivan Passer’s Way (March 6–13) features a weeklong theatrical run of Passer’s astonishing directorial debut Intimate Lighting (1965), in a newly struck, newly subtitled 35mm print that has been recently acquired for the Museum’s collection. Jan Sikl’s landmark eight-part series Private Century (2007) (March 9–15) is composed entirely of home movies, still photographs, letters, and diaries that offer an intimate view of Czechoslovakia’s turbulent history from the 1920s to the 1960s.

The two directors will come together on March 9 for Modern Mondays: An Evening with Jan Sikl and Ivan Passer, taking part in an onstage conversation after the screening of the first episode in Sikl’s Private Century, Daddy and Lili “Marlene.”

Ivan Passer’s Way
Ivan Passer’s major directorial contribution to the Czech New Wave came in 1965 with his finely attuned filmmaking debut Intimate Lighting, which will open the celebration of the influential director’s ongoing career on March 6. Intimate Lighting is an extraordinary portrait of rural living and of two friends reconnecting after several years. Shot through with compassion, humanity, and a keen sense of the absurd, the film perfectly expresses the tone and rhythms of real life, while exemplifying Passer’s remarkable ability to capture atmosphere and craft detailed psychological portraits. Intimate Lighting, which features newly improved subtitles, will have a theatrical weeklong run.

After immigrating to the U.S. in the early 1970s, Passer retained his signature style by shooting two films in New York, a city that reminded him of “home.” Born to Win (1971), one of Robert De Niro’s first roles, and Law and Disorder (1974) both display his characteristic gifts: capturing human foibles, unveiling the tragicomic nature of group interactions, and celebrating the ins and outs of close friendships. Friendship is also at the core of the unclassifiable but masterful Cutter’s Way (1981), a devastating neo-noir, cult film in which Jeff Bridges plays a commitmentphobic, part-time gigolo opposite John Heard’s one-eyed veteran turned mad avenger.

Concluding the showcase on March 8 is the world premiere of Czech Republic director Martin Sulik’s Golden Sixties (2009), an insightful documentary portrait of Passer, the first completed of a series portraying 26 major figures of the Czech New Wave including Milos Forman, Dusan Hanak, Vera Chytilova, Jiri Menzel, and Jan Svankmajer.

Ivan Passer will introduce the opening night screenings of Intimate Lighting (6:00) and Cutter’s Way (8:00) on March 6.

Jan Sikl’s Private Century
The dramatic political and social upheavals of twentieth-century Czechoslovakia war and occupation, the twin specters of Nazism and Communism, a Velvet Revolution—have never been more intimately evoked than in Jan Sikl’s landmark eight-part series Private Century. A highlight of the 2008 Telluride Film Festival, and counting director Milos Forman among its champions, Private Century is composed entirely of family home movies, still photographs, letters, and diaries from the 1920s to the 1960s. Narrated in the first person and featuring interviews with surviving family members, the series 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 that are passed down from generation to generation.

The films are intimate and gripping: Two ambitious artists—a sculptor and a composer— pledge themselves to the Communist State and cause their families to suffer. Emigrés of the Russian intelligentsia, cast out by Stalin, take root and flourish in Prague. A prosperous ethnic German farmer—a citizen of Czechoslovakia—loses his land and his birthright after the 1938 Nazi occupation of Sudetenland. These are stories of love and infidelity, courage and betrayal; of fateful decisions and sudden reversals of fortune.

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