By: Rhett Smith
From early innovators to dissident directors, Prague boasts an impressive film history and a welcoming cinema culture. Even for the most avid film lovers, the Czech Republic’s rich filmography can be quite a surprise. With institutions that were founded before World War II, such as the Kino Lucerna and Barrandov Studios, Prague’s first cinema and film studio respectively, Prague has marked its territory as the European Hollywood. In 1946, the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (FAMU) was founded by various filmmakers and scholars, making it the world’s fifth film university. Because of FAMU, Czechoslovakia experienced a new wave of filmmaking in the ‘60s, characterized by political protest and experimenting with narrative techniques. Today, FAMU maintains its prominence in the international film community, and Barrandov studios continues to support both the national and international film industries.
Due to Prague’s long and significant film history, the city has a lot to offer and many surprises for any visiting film enthusiast, and all of this can be sampled in a mere 36 hours.
12:00 PM : NaFilM
Národní 32, 110 00 Praha 1-Nové Město
The NaFilM (National Film Museum) project is a museum whose stated purpose is to “examine, re-evaluate and publicly present the importance of the Czech Republic’s national film heritage not only to the Czech people but also to visitors from all around the world.” The museum may not have the scale of a more prominent attraction, but the faculty has worked wonders in their office space in the functionalist Palác Chicago and turned it into an informative and hands-on experience. The current exhibit details the early Czech contributions to the film medium, displays some of the country’s more avant-garde experiments, and demonstrates the innovations of Jiří Trnka, one of the Czech Republic’s most famous animators. The museum changes exhibits annually and has a very promising future.
As described by co-founder Terezie Křižkovská, the museum aims to blend traditional exhibits with screening halls — and those intentions show. As the exhibit In Motion takes the spectator through various filmic depictions of movement, for example, one begins by witnessing the tools used by filmmakers, then ends the exhibit by viewing many Czech films created by those tools. The exhibit reminds guests of the complexities of the medium and the contributions of the Czech Republic to cinematic history.
NaFilM acts as a useful introduction to all of the cinematic history that Prague has to offer.
6:00 PM: Kino Lucerna and the Palác Lucerna
Štěpánská 61, 116 02 Praha 1-Nové Město
After a quick 10-minute walk through Prague 1 and past the mesmerizing Franz Kafka bust, you will reach the historic Palác Lucerna, home of the Kino Lucerna. The Kino Lucerna is the oldest cinema in Prague, as it was completed in 1907. Since the palace resembles a shopping mall by American standards, you can find many restaurants for a pre-movie meal. Adjacent to the monument of Saint Wenceslas riding on an upside down dead horse is the cinema’s art deco café. The cinema often hosts international films and various festivals, but it’s the theater across the street that is the real treat.
8:00 PM: Kino Světozor
Vodičkova 791/41, 110 00 Praha 1-Nové Město
Immediately across the Vodičkova Avenue, one can find the red and black marquee of the Kino Světozor, one of Prague’s most popular art cinemas. The cinema was first built in 1918, only 11 years after the Lucerna, before being converted into a cabaret and then back into a cinema. The cinema features a welcoming staff and management, two newly renovated theaters, and a small shop that sells posters and other souvenirs. Grab a Světozor lager at the bar and stay for a screening of anything from a Hollywood blockbuster to a Czech art film projected at 4k or 35mm quality.
8:30 AM : Barrandov Film Café
Kříženeckého nám. 322/5, 152 00 Praha 5-Hlubočepy
Before checking out the studios, grab breakfast at Barrandov’s film café. The Kavárna serves a quality breakfast, but the real attraction is the decoration. The furniture is pulled from the set department and cycles between various pieces they have in storage. Given the vast number of films shot at Barrandov, this means that breakfast might be served on a table used in movies such as Hostel, Casino Royale, or Amadeus. Stop in, have some film crew-themed pancakes, and geek out over the chance that Daniel Craig or Tom Hulce may have acted in the chair that you just spilled coffee on.
9:00 AM: Barrandov Studios
Kříženeckého nám. 322/5, 15200 Praha 5 – Hlubočepy, 152 00 Praha 5
Immediately after breakfast, walk over to the Barrandov Film Studios. Built in the ‘30s, the studio is one of the oldest and largest film studios in Europe. International filmmakers have found that the Czech Republic’s diverse scenery and low costs make the region perfect for production. Barrandov has therefore acted as a European hub for Hollywood since the end of the Cold War. Films such as Snowpiercer, Amadeus, and Casino Royale have taken advantage of the studio’s resources. The studio prides itself on its many soundstages, varied costume collection, and advanced filmmaking technology.
The studio offers a tour of its facilities, which details the long history of the studio and explores modern filmmaking in the complex. The tour begins at the exhibition area, FilmPoint, where guests learn the basic history of the studio. As the tour proceeds, guests see multiple soundstages and facilities. A highlight of the tour is the costume department, which, in the case of Amadeus, has won an Oscar. The tour’s finale is the props department, with over 150,000 pieces used in films at the studio.
Be sure to book a tour early, as they can be reserved months in advance.
12:00 PM : MeetFactory
Ke Sklárně 3213/15, 150 00 Praha 5-Smíchov
Just a few tram stops away from the studios hides the MeetFactory, David Černý’s art gallery and café. Stop in for a quick coffee and snack, and check out the art. It features nearly all media and will likely have a particularly avant-garde film screening. For more on the MeetFactory, check out our article on the Prague art scene located here.
1:30 PM: Karel Zeman Museum
Saská 80/1, 118 00 Praha 1-Malá Strana
Another 10 stops down the tram line and tucked away in a courtyard of the Castle District is the Karel Zeman Museum. Karel Zeman was an early Czech filmmaker who experimented with stop-motion animation, miniatures, matte painting, and other special effects to create some of the most unique films of the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. His impressive filmography inspired directors such as Terry Gilliam, Tim Burton and Wes Anderson. The museum takes you through scenes from his most notable films, before showing you how the effects were created. For example, one clip depicts a scene from Ukradená vzducholod (The Stolen Airship) in which characters ride an impossible flying machine. Directly behind a screen presenting this scene is a replica of the airship’s cockpit and the system used to create the illusion of flight. Through many exhibits similar to this one, the museum creates an interactive and educational experience.