Czechoslovakia’s 1960s New Wave in cinema is known for its humanism, its sly subversion of communist authority, and the high international recognition it received in the form of critical raves, festival success and Oscar wins. This talk wishes to tell the less well-known, in many ways less ‘wholesome’ story of the international distribution of the New Wave, focusing specifically on the intervention by Italian producers Carlo Ponti and Moris Ergas into Czechoslovak cinema from the mid- to late 1960s. Examining these producers’ resort to sensational marketing and more explicit content to enhance the films’ commercial appeal, I wish to affirm and extend recent scholarly insights into the longstanding interrelations between art and exploitation cinema. Yet I also want to look at the specific questions raised by the participation of a state-socialist film industry in such commercial strategies. How did Czechoslovak film institutions reconcile economic pragmatism and socialist morality? What was the role of Prague Spring-era liberalisation in the pursuit of Western distribution and coproduction? To what extent did Ponti and Ergas’s exploitation-style tactics represent the ‘exploitation’ of a film industry little experienced in marketing its films abroad?
Jonathan Owen is currently Motesiczky Postdoctoral Fellow at The Courtauld Institute of Art, London. He received his PhD from the University of Manchester and has taught and researched at the Universities of Exeter and St Andrews. He is the author of Avant-Garde to New Wave: Czechoslovak Cinema, Surrealism and the Sixties (Berghahn 2011) and a contributor to various books including Work in Cinema: Labour and the Human Condition (2013), Polish Cinema in a Transnational Context (Rochester 2014) and The Struggle for Form: Perspectives on Polish Avant-Garde Film 1916-1989 (Columbia 2014). His articles have appeared in such journals as Canadian Slavonic Papers, Framework, Studies in Eastern European Cinema and Iluminace. Jonathan also contributes booklet essays to Blu Ray and DVD releases and recently he has programmed films for festivals in Toronto, Canada and Manizales, Colombia. His research interests include Czech, Slovak and other European cinemas, avant-garde movements in Central and Eastern Europe, cult and exploitation cinema, co-production and animation.