As a restored version of Miloš Forman’s 1964 classic Black Peter enters cinemas, the head of the digitalisation team shares details about the process.
One of the great films of the Czech New Wave, Miloš Forman’s Black Peter (Černý Petr), is set to find new audiences in the Czech Republic with the cinema release of a freshly restored version on Thursday. I discussed the digital restoration of the black and white comedy with Tereza Frodlová of the National Film Archive, who oversaw the process.
“The main challenge, as always, was to keep the look of the film as it was the first time it was released.
“That means keeping the character of the image and the sound the same, and not making a new version of the film when we restore it.”
I understand that you found an extra scene that wasn’t in the original film. Did you consider adding that to the movie?
“We were thinking about it, but the most important thing for our decision was historical research, which confirmed to us that this scene was never part of the movie when it was released.
“So we decided not to add it to the movie. But people who buy the DVD will see it as bonus material.
“It’s an important part of the history of the film – but it’s not part of the film itself.”
Ivan Passer, who was also a part of the Czech New Wave and was a colleague and contemporary of Forman’s, was involved in the restoration. What exactly did he do? How did he help you?
“With Ivan Passer it was important to consult him. Because he was there when the film was being made.
“He was there every day, so he remembered a lot from the shooting.
“We could also consult him if we didn’t find some information in the historical materials, like in the newspapers, archival materials or books.
“Also he has seen the final version of the movie and he confirmed to us that movie looks as it was meant to.
“So it was important for us to have the opportunity to consult it with him.”
I presume you yourself must have seen Černý Petr many, many times before you restored it. Did you in a sense learn anything about the film doing the restoration?
“Well, I always learn a lot about a film during restoration, because I have to collect all the available information.
“But with Černý Petr the work was really nice, because every time we saw it again and again we found it more and more funny, and interesting.
“So maybe this is the kind of movie you need to more times in order to get inside it and really like it.”
Recently you had the world premiere of the restored version at the Venice Film Festival. What was the response to that screening?
“The screening room was almost full and there was a long line, so I think that we can consider it successful.
“I was just surprised that people didn’t find it as funny as we did when we were watching it during the restoration.”
What does it mean for the National Film Archive, and for the film itself, that it is going into Czech cinema distribution?
“That means the film should be screened, it should be seen by new generations of audiences.
“Digitalisation or digital restoration is the way to keep it alive.
“So this is probably the most important thing for us – that different generations will be able to see it in cinemas again.
“They can learn something about the history of cinema and about history in general.”