Czech maestro Jan Švankmajer steps in front of the camera in Athanor – The Alchemical Furnace
- After his farewell feature, Insect, the world-renowned Czech surrealist is now the subject of a documentary helmed by Adam Oľha
Imaginative Czech surrealist painter, filmmaker and animator Jan Švankmajer bade farewell to feature-length filmmaking with a comedic drama about preparing the Čapek brothers’ play Pictures from the Insect’s Life (also known as The Insect Play). However, this film, Insect [+see also:
interview: Jan Švankmajer
film profile], was itself the subject of another making-of, a behind-the-scenes shoot mapping the process of how Insect was put together, helmed by Slovakian documentarian Adam Oľha (New Life of a Family Album).
“Adam Oľha was supposed to make a film about Insect, but in the process of preparing it, Jan Švankmajer decided that he was not solely going to ‘toy’ with the principle of theatre within theatre, but was also going to enrich it with a kind of ‘film about a film’, and the footage shot by Oľha became part of the movie,” explain the Slovakian co-producers of Insect, Zuzana Mistríková and Ľubica Orechovská, of PubRes. This led to the idea of making a feature-length documentary, Athanor – The Alchemical Furnace [+see also:
interview: Adam Oľha
film profile], directed by Oľha and Insect editor Jan Daňhel, and produced by PubRes.
“Our film is intended as a documentary about Jan Švankmajer's work in a broader context. The movie is not only a portrait, but also documents life and the creative process at the production company Athanor (the name of a Renaissance-era alchemical furnace), where Švankmajer's films have been created exclusively since the early 1990s,” say Oľha and Daňhel in the directors’ notes. Švankmajer is not the sole subject of the documentary: the film also revolves around his long-time producer (including for his exhibitions) Jaromír Kallista, of Athanor, and dedicated collaborator Tomáš Kalous, among others, including Eva Švankmajerová, who influenced Švankmajer’s works. However, the directors say the work is supposed to be “a living situational film” that paints “a complex picture of one of the most important and internationally most recognised directors of our time”.
Athanor – The Alchemical Furnace is structured around Švankmajer’s “Decalogue”, a manifesto of his filmmaking, which includes principles such as: “Remember there is only one form of ‘poetry’”, “Surrender to your obsessions”, “Use animation as a magical operation” and “Imagination is subversive because it pits the possible against the real”. Oľha and Daňhel note, “Our film is a dialogue with this Decalogue and thematises the process of creation, of a permanent game and of a never-ending process of liberation in the sense of ‘the possible against the real’.”
Athanor – The Alchemical Furnace is being produced by Slovakian company PubRes and co-produced by Jaromír Kallista, of Athanor. The Slovak Audiovisual Fund and the Czech Film Fund have supported the film. The world premiere is scheduled for the impending 49th edition of International Film Festival Rotterdam.
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