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New Czech film about heroic activist Palach to be made

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Prague, Aug 16 (CTK) – A new film about Czech student activist Jan Palach, who immolated himself in 1969 in reaction to the 1968 Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia, will start to be shot on Thursday, spokeswoman for the film crew Helena Hejcova told CTK on Wednesday.

The film will focus on Palach’s internal transformation, Hejcova said.

The scenario was written by the author and a spokeswoman for the Charter 77 dissident manifesto, Eva Kanturkova.

Robert Sedlacek will be the film director. The lead role will be played by Viktor Zavadil.

The film is to be premiered on August 21, 2018, when 50 years will elapse since the Warsaw Pact invasion of Czechoslovakia, Hejcova said.

Palach was born on August 11, 1948, in a middle-class Protestant family in Vsetaty, Central Bohemia.

After graduating from secondary school in 1966, he unsuccessfully applied to the Faculty of Arts. He then studied at the University of Economics, and in 1968 transferred to the Faculty of Arts to study history and political economy.

As a university student, Palach showed interest in social and political affairs. In a school essay of late 1968 he discussed the way of ensuring real freedom of individuals and equality between nations.

In November 1968, he took part in the students’ strike, called in response to the decision by the Communist Party Central Committee to legalise the August occupation. However, the strike met with no response, and thus Palach decided to take a more noticeable step.

Palach poured petrol on himself, and set himself on fire in Prague’s Wenceslas Square on January 16, 1969.

Palach succumbed to heavy burns on January 19.

The film is to capture the last months of Palach’s life. It depicts his studies, life on the campus, a romance, life with his mother in Vsetaty and summer work in France and Kazakhstan.

As society changed after August 1968 and succumbs to a depressive mood, Palach changes, too.

“Throughout the film, the camera watches Palach’s face, trying to find the moments of decision which were not noticed by those among whom he lived in 1968 or they were noticed, but it never occurred to them what they meant for him and what act they will inspire,” Hejcova said.

The film ends with a look at a running figure in the flames.

On Thursday, ten-day preparations will start. The main filming will take place in November and December and will last 25 days. It will be done in Prague and in other places.

Sedlacek has mainly made documentaries. He debuted with the Rules of the Lie from 2006, describing a therapeutical community of addicts. He was awarded with the Czech Lion prize for it.

Later he gained the critics’ prize for his film Long Live the Family. In October 2014, President Milos Zeman awarded him with a Medal for Merit. Sedlacek caused a scandal by coming to the ceremony in a sweatshirt.

During the rule of Communist hard-liners that started after 1969, Kanturkova was blacklisted and her work could only be read in the samizdat.

She spent almost one year in prison for “subversion” in the early 1980s. She signed the Charter 77 and was its spokeswoman in the mid-1980s.

After the overthrow of the Communist regime in 1989, she helped found the Civic Forum (OF) umbrella post-Communist organisation and she was a member of the Czech National Council parliament between 1990 and 1992.

She was also a chairwoman of the Writers’ Guild.

She described her moments from the prison in the televised series Friends from the House of Sorrow and she wrote the scenario for the film Mourning Ceremony by Zdenek Sirovy. It was finished in 1969, but was banned and could only be screened after 1989.

Kanturkova also wrote the scenario for the film John Huss made by film director Jiri Svoboda with Matej Hadek in the lead role.

Palach’s fate was also captured by Polish film director and scriptwriter Agnieszka Holland in her film Burning Bush from 2013.

The three-episode series, lauded both by film critics and the audience, starts with Palach’s self-immolation.

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