The work of Karol Plicka

In the second half of the 1920s, the ethnographic department of the national educational and cultural organisation Matica slovenská began to expand its activities into film production with an ethnographic theme.
Photographer, filmmaker and ethnographer Karol Plicka began to work for Matica slovenská in 1923. His first effort was the film Za slovenským ľudom (‘About Slovak People’, 1928). Only a few scenes from this film documenting folk customs and traditions have survived. Plicka’s second film Po horách, po dolách (‘In the Mountains, in the Valleys’, 1929) continued with the subject matter of the previous film. In addition to its documentary value, it featured distinctive camera work.
Zem spieva (‘The Earth is Singing’, 1933) is Plicka’s most significant film from this period. In co-operation with editor Alexander Hackenschmied and composer Alexander Škvor, he created a powerful film essay which used an authentic ethnographic base (folk dances, songs, customs, festivities and games) to present a modern and lyrically-stylised depiction of the life of the Slovak people, their traditional values and environment. Together with three Czech films Řeka (‘The River’) by Josef Rovenský, Extaze (‘Ecstasy’) by Gustav Machatý and Bouře nad Tatrami (‘Storm over the Tatras’) by Tomáš Trnka, Plicka’s film won the City of Venice Cup, a significant international award for best direction, in the second year of the film festival (later the Venice International Film Festival) presented within the framework of the 1934 Venice Art Biennale. The original negatives of the film were destroyed in 1944 in a fire at the Zlín film studios. However, two double negatives were produced from the preserved incomplete copy in 1945, and in 1983, under the management of director Martin Slivka, the film was restored with new recordings of the original music.
In 1937 Plicka began to teach at the School of Arts and Crafts in Bratislava, and one year later he established Czechoslovakia’s first film studies programme there. Several future Slovak film artists, including director of photography Karol Krška, director Ján Kadár and pioneering animated film artist and director Viktor Kubal, were among his students in the programme’s only year of operation. Despite the short life of this programme, it laid the foundations of film education in Slovakia. After the school closed in 1939, Plicka left for Prague for good, where in 1946 he became the first Dean of the newly-established Faculty of Film (now the Film and Television Faculty, FAMU) of the Academy of Performing Arts.