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FAMU yesterday and today

FAMU yesterday and today


FAMU was founded as the film section of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague in 1946/47, making it – after Moscow, Berlin, Rome and Paris – the fifth film school in the world. The school’s first applicants could study directing, dramaturgy and the film image. Until 1948, the school’s home was on the second floor of the building at Havlíčkova street (no. 13); it then acquired its first spaces in so called Vančura building at Klimentská street no. 4, where until 1960 students had their theoretical (from 1950 also practical) instruction.

From the beginning, the school shared the house with the Film Institute, which however was closed soon after; many of its former staff then began teaching at FAMU. “Young people were just clamouring to get in”, remembers one of the school’s first instructors, legendary Czech director Václav Wassermann. “Right from the start there were thousands of applicants …the first entrance interviews were held by… the founders, such as Karel Plicka, A.M. Brousil, Julius Kalaš, Jaroslav Bouček… I remember the early days when there was barely anything here. When there were no teaching aids, no facilities, no technical or financial resources – but over time we saw the creation of a filmic chytron, the creation of much from little, great success from few resources”.[1]

During this time, FAMU had to overcome the resistance towards academically trained filmmakers on the part of the film professionals at Barrandov, fought off an attempt at its closure, survived attempts by the AMU Action Committee to expel students and teachers after the communist coup d´etat, and began to create a systematic form of education based on the experiences of Moscow’s VGIK.

In 1950 the various disciplines are given their own departments, to which is later added the Department of Production; the Dramaturgy Department, meanwhile, sees the creation of a specialisation in film theory. In 1953 FAMU becomes one of the founding members of CILECT. A year earlier it is given the former Jewish cinema – the Roxy at Dlouhá street no. 33 – where it sets up another film studio (from 1955). The head of the Directing Department, Václav Krška, establishes a specialisation in documentary and popular scientific film, as well as an editing cabinet headed by Jan Kučera. Around the second half of the 1950s, the Department of Film and Television Technique is formed, with cabinets for music and sound. The Camera Department is rechristened the Department of Film Photography and the Television Image (in 1964 the Roxy studio is equipped with TV technology produced by the students and professors of the secondary technical school for media in Panská street). In the mid-1950s, Karel Höger and his assistant Radovan Lukavský begin to introduce FAMU students to the principles of acting and working with actors, leading to the first cooperation between students from FAMU and DAMU.

Starting in the early 1950s, AMU’s chancellor A. M. Brousil organises regular projections and discussions of foreign films for FAMU students, and invites renowned guests such as Vsevolod Pudovkin, Cesar Zavattini, Giuseppe De Santis, Joris Ivens, Béla Balász, Simone Signoret, Yves Montand and Gérard Philippe, to name but a few.

In 1957/58 Otakar Vávra arrives at the Directing Department with a new approach to lectures and the admissions process. He personally selects his students, whom he forms into the core of the new wave (Věra Chytilová, Evald Schorm, Jiří Menzel, Jan Schmidt). It was his fundamental belief that a director must know all types of art with which he works, work with actors… also philosophy and aesthetics. Mastery of the technology of film comes second. At school, he should get to know all fields of knowledge as they relate to film work. Theory should be on an equal footing as practice, because a director both creates and realizes a vision”.[2] 

In a certain sense the years 1960/61 represent a turning point; the departments and chancellor’s and dean’s offices move into the Lažanský Palace (Smetanovo nábřeží 2), with the addition of the faculty’s student library. (The newly founded independent FAMU Studio and the former Film Institute library remain in Klimentská street.) Over time, the faculty begins to see a reorganisation of departments as well as curriculum, with more emphasis on graduates’ success in the world of television. In the mid-1960s, most departments – and the faculty as a whole – receive the modifier “film and television”.

The year 1961 sees the founding of an independent Department of Film Journalism, later renamed the Documentary Film Department; in 1963 the discipline of film and television editing is established, with instructors supplied by the editing cabinet of the Department of Film and Television Directing. Film and television theory was made independent, with instruction ensured by the cabinet of film and television theory at the Department of Film and Television Dramaturgy (in 1965 theory receives its own department). Starting in 1966 Ján Šmok works to make art photography an independent discipline, first as a cabinet within the Department of Film and Television Image.

In the years 1966-69, Jiří Podroužek sets up sound mixing equipment for 16mm format at the FAMU Studio, followed in 1969 by equipment for 35mm format. The school thus has all the technology – with the exception of a laboratory (the ones at the Roxy cinema were closed in 1957) – to independently produce student films and exercises, many of which had been receiving international awards since the late 1950s. In 1968 the studio in Klimentská street was equipped with superorthicon television cameras; the television antenna installed in the elevator shaft broadcast to a limited extent even during the Soviet occupation in August of that same year.

During the 1960s, the school graduates two to three generations of students thanks to whom FAMU becomes a name recognised throughout the world. During the subsequent thirty years, FAMU would become practically the only source of film (and partially television) professionals in Czechoslovakia.

The mid-1960s saw the breakthrough of the school’s photography graduates, with the first public exhibition of works by photography graduates held in 1969. Nevertheless, the Department of Art Photography, headed by Ján Šmok and boasting instructors such as Jaroslav Rajzík and Pavel Štecha, is not founded until 1975; previously this discipline had been part of the Department of Cinematography.

Following the collapse of the Prague Spring, many graduates began to run into the limitations and repressions of Husák-era “normalization”. In 1972, several members of faculty (Evald Schorm, Břetislav Pojar, František Filip, František Daniel, Milan Kundera, Karel Kachyňa, Vlastimil Vávra) and even students (Vlastimil Venclík) were forced to leave the school. The school is taken over by lecturers loyal to the conservative communist regime (Jiří Sequens, Václav Vorlíček, Jaroslav Balík, Jaroslav Hužera, Libuše Pospíšilová, Vojtěch Trapl, Ludvík Toman, Bedřich Pilný, Přemek Podlaha, Petr Krull); amongst them even the normalization-era general director of Československý Film, Jiří Purš. There is frequent censorship and self-censorship, many politically commissioned works. The school even offers a course for training police cameramen. During this period FAMU’s graduates, with a few exceptions, find it practically impossible to receive independent work at state film studios controlled by communist cadres.

In the second half of the 1970s, FAMU again finds itself an island of relatively greater creative and intellectual freedom. Dean Ilja Bojanovský paves the way for students and their films to participate in international encounters and festivals and supports the activities of politically engaged students (Jiří Adamec, Fero Fenič) during the founding of the International Festival of Student Films (RIFE CILECT) in Karlovy Vary, which follows in the footsteps of similar attempts from the late 1960s and is held every two years from 1977 to 1991. FAMU thus begins to regain its good name on the international scene. As chancellor, Bojanovský later even supports the publishing of the student-produced Bulletin (1980-1982) at FAMU and Kavárna a.f.f.a (1987-1990) at AMU, AVU and VŠUP, both under the banner of the Socialist Union of Youth. The publications gathered together individuals who promoted critical issues and helped to make room for creative activities, and who later also participated in the student protests against the regime in November 1989 (Tomáš Kepka, Bedřich Ludvík, Štefan Uhrík, Hana Cielová, Petr Nikolaev, Petr Slavík, Tereza Brdečková, Milan Šteindler, Pavel Koutecký, Milan Cieslar, Martin Mejstřík, Andrea Sedláčková, Petr Jarchovský, Josef Brož, Jan Hřebejk, Igor Chaun, Václav Marhoul, and many others.). An open, critical atmosphere could also be found at the projections/discussions of student assignments called Kinoataky, and at the annual festival of student works under the auspices of Studentská umělecká a odborná činnost (Students’ Artistic and Professional Activities, SUOČ).

From 1973, many of the television assignments are created in electronic format. In the mid-1980s, work began on a modern studio in the basement of the Klimentská building and the entire first floor was renovated for instructional and technical spaces. 

In January 1989, AMU chancellor Ilja Bojanovský stood behind students in their protests against the police interventions during so-called Palach Week. After 17 November he supported the striking students by, among other things, opening the school to them; after 25 November he and dean Václav Sklenář provided recording and reproduction equipment, thus enabling the distribution of authentic images of the police repressions against demonstrators, the recording of further developments, and the launch of the so-called student broadcasts at Czech Television.

After 1990 the FAMU teaching staff is gradually joined by people such as Jiří Menzel, Olga Sommerová, Zdenek Sirový, Věra Chytilová, Jan Němec, Karel Vachek, Jaromil Jireš, Dušan Klein, Pavel Koutecký, Jan Špáta, Břetislav Pojar, Tomáš Kepka, Jiří Kubíček, Edgar Dutka, Petr Jarchovský, Jiří Křižan, Vladimír Just, Lubor Dohnal, Jan Malíř, Jaroslav Šofr, Jaroslav Brabec, Jan Mattlach, Drahomíra Vihanová, Vladimír Birgus, Pavel Dias and Jindřich Štreit, among others.

After a brief period of studentocracy, characterised among other things by opposition to the proposed fusion of the Documentary Department with the Directing Department and weakened leadership at the Directing Department which ended with the departure of Jiří Menzel, the school – thanks to internal initiative and with strong support from the academic senate – was again able to stabilise itself. The Department of Animation is formed (1991), later with a specialisation in multimedia work and computer animation. Under the guidance of Rudolf Krejčík, the school adds a two-semester programme of instruction in English for foreign students (FAMU for Foreigners - 3F, 1991), as well as summer workshops for students from American Universities (University of Miami, Emerson College Boston, NYU - Tisch School of the Arts) and a semester-long programme for students of the American University in Washington, DC. At the Department of Photography, Miroslav Vojtěchovský begins to build a study programme in English, students and instructors take part in international exchanges within the ERASMUS programme, and the school is blessed with lectures and workshops by foreign visitors (Zbygniew Rybcziński, Othar Ioseliani, Richard Leacock, Vittorio Storaro) as well as FAMU graduates (Vojtěch Jasný, Frank Beyer, Agnieszka Holland and Miloš Forman, who in 1998 – after being nominated by FAMU – was awarded an honorary AMU doctorate degree).

Other changes include the introduction of separate bachelor and master programmes (1996), the accreditation of doctor studies, and preparations for switching over to a system of credit points.

The SUOČ film reviews become the FAMU Festival, which begins ongoing collaboration with the Archa theatre; RIFE CILECT, which in the transforming economic situation is unable to find enough funding to continue, is replaced by a competitive section of film school projects organised each year as part of the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival.

On the basis of a project prepared by O. Řehák (1995), the FAMU Studio completes its switch to digital technology (DigiBeta). At the same time, the larger basement studio is outfitted with modern equipment. In the mid-1990s, the school acquires its first digital editing facilities (Avid, Lightworks) and the number of works produced on electronic recording media begins to approach that produced on classic film material. A PC net and cable connection are installed. Despite a complicated legal situation, the Slavia café is renovated and reopened for business (1997). Together with the other AMU faculties, the school (in particular the photography and animation departments) begins to make use of a former school building leased from the city of Beroun. The reconstruction of Lažanský Palace begins to take shape, in the end bringing the school more modern library facilities, a study room and projection room, as well as additional spaces in the renovated attic. The completion of these works (2002), during which FAMU operates in provisional spaces at Revoluční avenue no. 19, is followed (especially after the flood in August 2002) by the reconstruction of the FAMU Studio. 

Though boasting a modern home and the latest technology, the founding of competing programmes at universities, academies, and other institutions of higher education (VŠUP, AVU, Zlín’s Baťa University, the Miroslav Ondříček Film Academy in Písek) causes the school to lose its monopoly position in film and audiovisual education. A fresh impulse comes in the form of Michal Bregant’s election as dean in the spring of 2002. Bregant and his team bring in new, younger, instructors and department heads and implement several changes in the form of study that lead to a stronger integration of the student body, especially for first-year students. Most of the departments are restructured, with workshops headed by individual instructors who have the freedom to choose their students themselves. The instructional week is better organised, including instruction in modules allowing for more frequent guest lecturers from abroad (Jean-Claude Carriére, Godfrey Reggio, Brendan Ward, Sergiu Nicolaescu, Peter Wintonick, Peter Hames, Linda Aronson, Nobuhiro Aihara, Guy Gauthier, Vojtěch Jasný, Ivan Passer, Denys Arcand, Frank Pierson, Michael Hausman, Karen Irvine, Francois Jost, Garry Hill, Woody Vasulka, Mariko Tanabe, Richard Leacock, Sylvette Baudrot and Marcus Berger,Andrew Labarthe, J. Dudley Andrews among others, many as part of the FAMU Open Eye grant project), lectures by otherwise busy professionals and an updating of topics, especially in the area of digital technology and software.

In 2002, the cabinets of social sciences and photographic history and theory are combined to form the Centre of Audiovisual Studies (CAS) under the guidance of Vít Janeček. The centre unified the majority of theoretical subjects at FAMU under one roof; created the FAMU Open Eye programme with the help of grants; equipped doctorate candidates’ working spaces; expanded the library collection to include professional journals and DVDs necessary for both instruction and research; established, in collaboration with VŠUP and ČVUT, the Intermedia Laboratory for the instruction of intermedia production and technology at UVS Beroun; established, in collaboration with the National Film Archive, a centre for the instruction of restoration techniques for film, photographs and electronic media; and accredited bachelor and masters programmes in the field of audiovisual studies while integrating the activities of the former cabinet for multimedia work.


All activities connected with foreign students were integrated into FAMU International. Under the leadership of Pavel Jech, two programmes were formulated: the Academic Programme and a practically oriented semester called Special Productions. The number of foreign students increased, as did the quality of their work. New collaborative agreements were concluded with Yale University and the University of Texas in Austin.

During this time, there was also a marked increase in the number of student exchanges as part of the Socrates-Erasmus and Free Movers programmes, thanks to a series of bilateral agreements with foreign schools all over the world.

In 2004, students from the Production Department attempted to follow in the tradition of RIFE CILECT by founding the FRESH FILM FEST independent festival of student films in Karlovy Vary.

In view of the lack of sufficient financing for student works, in 2003 a system of internal grants was established, to which all of the students can apply for additional financing for more demanding student projects. Student works continue to be presented to the public at the annual FAMU FEST competition.



[1] V. Wasserman: “Nejlepší léta života” (“The Best Years of Life”) in Sborník prací Akademie múzických umění v Praze (The Collected Works of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague). SPN Praha 1966, p. 81

[2] Otakar Vávra: Historie katedry filmové a televizní režie AMU (The History of the Department of Film and Television Directing). Manuscript, p. 19