Feb 11, 2010

Czech prints: "The fall from the bicycle always ends in wheat."

While at the NCSU Prague Institute last summer, Marsha Orgeron and Devin Orgeron asked film historian Jiří Horníček of the National Film Archive of the Czech Republic (Národní Filmový Archiv) to show them some unique films. Their collective favorite was a driver safety film:


            Nevíme dne [We Don’t Know When . . .] (1946)
            35mm, sound; Czech narration;14 minutes
            directed by Bohumil Vošahlík.

Thanks to these three (and NFA director Vladimir Opěla) we'll get to see this print, plus two 16mm amateur films made in Czechoslovakia: The Soldier’s Story (1934) and [The First Hours of the Occupation] (1968), with Jiří Horníček presenting them.

The final challenge of presenting these films at the symposium is somehow getting English translation for the non-Czech speaking audience of viewers.  How to get a transcription of the narration in Czech to begin with? (Jiří! -- who even provided an audio file of the soundtrack to Nevíme dne). 

How to get these words translated in to English? Knowing that a 1946 driver safety film is likely to contain words and constructions that Google Translator can not accurately translate, we had to find an expert. Quickly. 

After all, the Google translation includes phrases such as this one:

Nekázeň cyklistů způsobila už hodně zla a mnoho škod.
Insubordination cyclists have caused a lot of evil and a lot of damage.


Granted, there is also the sheer poetry of this sentence:

Pád z kola nekončí vždycky v pšenici, často pod blatníky. Jezděte po okraji a hezky za sebou. 
The fall from the bicycle 
always ends in wheat, 
often under the wings. 
Drive along the edge 
of a nice behind.  
Nice. 

But probably not real accurate.

Enter Alice Lovejoy, currently a postdoctoral fellow at Colgate University and recently PhD from Yale, who just happens to be writing a book about the "Czechoslovak Army film studio from 1919 to 1970." She even recognized the voice of the narrator, and the army cinematographer! Talk about the right person for the job.  I'm very grateful for her pro bono translation. 

Whether we then turn that into a printed document or live performance or (ideally) projected subtitles remains to be seen.   

54 days to go….