Surrealist Filmmaker Jan Švankmajer Is About to Make His Final Feature Film, and You Can Help Produce It

No film­mak­er com­bines live action with stop-motion quite like Jan Švankma­jer, and cer­tain­ly no film­mak­er has used that com­bi­na­tion to such imag­i­na­tive and trou­bling ends. An avowed sur­re­al­ist who got his start in ani­ma­tion more than half a cen­tu­ry ago in his home­land of the for­mer Czecho­slo­va­kia, he’s con­tin­ued to craft his dis­tinc­tive cin­e­mat­ic expe­ri­ences how­ev­er and when­ev­er pos­si­ble through the decades. His fil­mog­ra­phy now includes such endur­ing trips as Dimen­sions of Dia­logue (see below), which no less a vision­ary than Ter­ry Gilliam calls one of the best ani­mat­ed films of all time; Alice, his dark inter­pre­ta­tion of Alice’s Adven­tures in Won­der­land; and Lit­tle Otik, a mod­ern­iza­tion of a folk­tale about a tree stump that turns into a mon­strous baby.

But as well as he brings the bizarre to vivid life on screen, he’s always had high­er ambi­tions than that. “Švankma­jer is capa­ble of cre­at­ing dark yet play­ful worlds that dis­sect the very core of our soci­ety,” says the Indiegogo page now rais­ing the funds for his lat­est — and last — fea­ture film, Insects. “The civ­i­liza­tion we live in has lit­tle inter­est in authen­tic artis­tic cre­ation,” laments the film­mak­er. “What it needs is well-work­ing adver­tise­ment, the icono­graph­ic con­tem­po­rary art, push­ing peo­ple towards more and more mass con­sump­tion. It gets increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult to fund inde­pen­dent art that scru­ti­nizes the very core of our soci­ety. Who would delib­er­ate­ly sup­port their own crit­ics?”

Now, in this age of crowd­fund­ing, you can sup­port one of its most enter­tain­ing crit­ics alive your­self. Insects has already suc­ceed­ed in rais­ing the first phase of its bud­get, but still has a way to go before it can assure its esteemed cre­ator and his col­lab­o­ra­tors full artis­tic free­dom (Švankma­jer is look­ing to raise $400,000 in total), so if you’d like to chip in, you can make your­self eli­gi­ble for such rewards as the first oppor­tu­ni­ty to down­load the film, its Blu-Ray edi­tion with an accom­pa­ny­ing art book, or even — if you’ve got $15,000 to put toward the cause — “a din­ner with Jan Švankma­jer at his man­sion in Czech Repub­lic and a com­ment­ed vis­it to his Kun­stk­abi­net.” Even now, work on Insects, its Indiegogo page assures us, is under­way, with Švankma­jer “very busy vis­it­ing ento­mo­log­i­cal auc­tions, buy­ing var­i­ous kinds of bugs, doing rehearsal shots with them and so on.”

If you’d like to learn more about the dra­ma that they’ll ulti­mate­ly act out, watch the pro­mo video at the top of the post. In it, Švankma­jer describes it as set in a pub, after hours, where an ama­teur the­ater group has gath­ered to rehearse The Insect Play by the Čapek broth­ers. But “as the rehearsal pro­gress­es, the char­ac­ters of the play are born and die with no regard to time,” and the actors “expe­ri­ence fright­en­ing trans­for­ma­tions.” Švankma­jer, who has planned not a direct adap­ta­tion of The Insect Play but a more com­plex work that draws inspi­ra­tion both from it and The Meta­mor­pho­sis by his oth­er well-known coun­try­man Franz Kaf­ka, puts the appeal of this sto­ry where “bugs behave as human beings, and peo­ple behave as insects” sim­ply: “The Čapek broth­ers’ play is very mis­an­throp­ic. I’ve always liked that.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Mas­cot, Pio­neer­ing Stop Ani­ma­tion Film, by Wla­dys­law Starewicz

Dimen­sions of Dia­logue by Jan Svankma­jer (1982)

The Best Ani­mat­ed Films of All Time, Accord­ing to Ter­ry Gilliam

4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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