Human Nature Live

An interview about 4 greats of Slovak documentary with Alexandra Strelková, director of the National Cinematographic Centre of the Slovak Film Institute.

An interview about 4 greats of Slovak documentary with Alexandra Strelková, director of the National Cinematographic Centre of the Slovak Film Institute.

The Slovak Film Institute (SFI) celebrates five decades since its founding in 1963. Besides traditional archiving, collecting and restoring activities, Slovakia’s single cinematographic institution also keeps up with the times. As it is busy dealing with the digitization of national film treasures, it now offers the most precious ones to international audiences through for two weeks for free.

Introducing more than 20 films by four Slovak filmmakers who are considered classic today represents the first collaboration of and the Slovak Film Institute. Is it for the first time that SFI’s films are introduced online? Do you consider digitization an important theme?

It is for the first time that we present our films online on such a large scale. Since 2004, we have run a big project to restore and save our audiovisual heritage, gradually digitizing a selection of crucial films, including documentaries. The latest ones include Pictures of the Old World which we now have at our disposal in a restored, digitally remastered DCP form. In 2011, we have launched a large digitization project within which we will have processed more films in our digitization department by 2015.

Do documentaries represent a significant part of SFI‘s archive collection? Does documentary film have a specific position within SFI?

SFI manages copyrights of films for theatrical distribution made in the conditions of the state monopoly, i.e. until 1991. These include numerous documentary films, both feature-length and short ones, newsreels etc.

We process the films in the film archive, present them at film festivals and release them on DVD, some of them even internationally (Pictures of the Old World were released in France and next year they will be released in the UK). Newsreels are often broadcast on TV; we also often provide film excerpts. SFI also represents an occasional coproducer of documentary films, especially those concerning the history of Slovak cinema, but also those that deal with more general themes; e.g. Martin Slivka – The Man Who Planted Trees or the currently appreciated Normalization by Robert Kirchhoff. Our significant coproductions include the latest film by Dušan Hanák Paper Heads from 1995, one of the most popular Slovak documentaries until today.

What was the key for selecting the presented films and their authors? What makes their films significant and relevant for (not only) Slovak culture?

We have selected the films together with Diana Tabakov of, working on the assumption that some of Slovakia‘s archive films have not been introduced there yet and that SFI’s anniversary is a perfect occasion for that. We have chosen filmmakers of various generations whose works follow a common thread and who have influenced the works of younger filmmakers whose films are already available at

We are offering the majority of significant works by Martin Slivka, a pioneer of ethnographic documentary as well as experimental film. The 50th anniversary of SFI cannot do without Pictures of the Old World by Dušan Hanák, who has celebrated his 75th birthday this year by the way. Ranking among the most popular (not only documentary) Slovak films, it is currently being released on DVD for the fourth time as the previous edition is hopelessly sold out on the Slovak market. Dežo Ursiny is renowned as a musician, however, we have processed his film works only recently, so I believe that his films will please both film and music fans. Well, and Martin Šulík’s name is internationally renowned primarily in the field of feature film, however, his documentaries are just as interesting and fine; we are offering at least the three documentaries included in SFI’s archive.

What makes these films significant and relevant? They are about people. About how they were, how they are, and how they will be (if they survive). People don’t change that much after all. I call it the human nature.

Many of the films deal with the important and inspiring themes of Slovak popular culture, folklore, Slovak nature. Do these represent a characteristic trait of Slovak documentary which is still present in the current works, or is it gradually disappearing, or is that a mere chance?

Filmmakers always respond to things they consider relevant and important in their time. We have to find out who we are, learn about our traditions and roots and use them as a starting point. Even if popular culture and nature are not directly depicted in contemporary films, that still does not mean that they are not present there. I have personally never been a great fan of defining “characteristic features“, fashionable trends and waves in cinema. Filmmakers have to be familiar with their cultural, i.e. also cinematic heritage, and ideally comprehend it, and only then create in their own way. They will always follow tradition, be it directly or indirectly, even if dealing with current problems, such as social change, division lines, political cases, loves (even blind ones), or the history of their families, kitchens, legends and morytates.

Which two films would you personally recommend to the viewers and why?

Well I could not pick only two out of the whole collection. However, I can recommend some films by each of the directors.
Dušan Hanák: Pictures of the Old World – I guess this is the most beautiful film I have ever seen, regarding the visual aspect, the contents and the music. I also always love to see how Old Shatterhand Came to See Us.
Martin Slivka: Water and Labor – Old wooden dams in operation with an electronic soundtrack by Ilja Zeljenka!
Dežo Ursiny: About Cancer and Hope - No comment.
Martin Šulík: Silence - Human nature live.

Thank you for your viewing tips and we wish the Slovak Film Institute another 50 years of numerous film classics and their films online!

The interview was made on the occasion of the documentary programme Slovak Documentary Masters Online for the First Time held from December 16 to 29 at


In order to add a comment please login or register first.

Doc Alliance Members

Doc Alliance is a creative partnership of 7 key European documentary film festivals. Our aim is to advance the documentary genre, support its diversity and promote quality creative documentary films.