It’s hard to say when the Karel Zeman Museum in Prague is busier: during the school year or the summer months. The museum, dedicated to the work of visionary Czech filmmaker Karel Zeman who created legendary children’s films like Journey to the Beginning of Time, was only opened less than two years ago but has become a major attraction.
“The museum focuses on most of Karel Zeman’s work but of course much of the exhibition revolves around three major films: Journey to the Beginning of Time, The Fabulous World of Jules Verne and Baron Munchausen. The show gives the impression of taking place in a film studio so it is possible how the director made his films, the kinds of tricks and animation he used. You can also film yourself on the set or in his fantastic settings, on camera or on video and that is a big attraction.”
He was an innovator, wasn’t he, he invented a lot of those techniques or expand upon them…
“He used optical tricks and animation which he combined in unique ways. It was new and different and he inspired very great many people with his work.”
If we take Journey to the Beginning of Time, there is a famous scene in which Zeman combined a real shot of boys going back through time on a raft, with a wooly mammoth in the forefront, which was a puppet, and then a painted landscape in the back. Children can see this inside…
“They can. They can view either short clips and can see original costumes, puppets, and see how he set up shots.”
I can see quite a few adults here today but I guess it’s fair to say that kids are your main audience?
“Absolutely. But not only. We offer a very wide range of additional programmes, some of which are very popular with tourists, one combined with a boat ride here in Malá strana. But we also have a week-long progamme, for example, for children, where they learn about all the different facets of Zeman’s work and not just: we had kids yesterday visit the famous Barrandov Studios and today they are outside Prague on an excursion with a paleontologist, searching for fossils of trilobites.”
So it’s quite a layered programme… what is the feedback? Do you think it has an impact, maybe inspiring a child to want to make movies or be an animator?
“The second part, we certainly hope so. We do get a lot of positive feedback from children.”
It is not that long ago that the three films we mentioned were released on DVD but the big news now is that they are going to be digitally restored, is that correct?
“It is a three-year project with one film being getting a new premiere each year. We are cooperating with České bijáky and Czech TV and we are restoring the three films. The first one should be re-released next year. The Fabulous World of Jules Vernes dates back to 1958 and was premiered at Expo ’58. We want the new premiere to take place at Expo 2015 in Italy and in New York and Prague. We want to take the film aboard again because back then it opened in New York in 96 theaters, so that was amazing. We are hoping it is a similar success.”
Two years ago, shortly after the museum opened I did an interview with Ludmila Zeman, the daughter of Karel Zeman who is herself a highly-respected children’s book author and illustrator. I know cooperation has always been very close, has that continued?
“Yes, it certainly has. Ludmila Zeman is a co-founder and just recently she donated a lot of material from her personal archives showing how her father made his films. We cooperate very closely and she too is taking part in the restoration project.”