Intertel is a project for international understanding through television which this year (1965) won a Peabody, America’s premier television trophy, for its concept of international communications.
The full title is the International Television Federation. Its members are National Educational Television and the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company of America, the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Rediffusion Television Ltd.
How do you make a film on the youth of a country where the interesting thing about them is not that they are different from the youth of one’s own country but so very much the same? This was the problem that faced director Randal Beattie and myself in our first few days in Prague researching ‘Children of Revolution’, a report on youth in Czechoslovakia today. Where we had expected to make a film about the very different attitudes both to society and their own personal lives of young people born and bred under Communism, and who had known nothing else, we found ourselves confronted by a largely apolitical youth, whose chief leisure interest was ‘beat’ music and dancing (they call it ‘big beat’), who preferred idealism to ideology, private to public experience, and who were severely critical of their elders just like youth anywhere else in the western world. (Czechoslovakia shares frontiers with West Germany and Austria as well as with Communist countries of the eastern bloc, and Prague lies well to the west of Vienna.) But perhaps the most striking feature of all about these young people behind the so-called ‘Iron Curtain’ was that they were, in most cases, not only individualistic and critical but prepared to come out openly with their comments both among themselves and to us.
Before arriving in Czechoslovakia we had thought of trying to convey the special character of Czechoslovak youth by comparing them with the youth of their neighbour, Austria. The two countries share a long historical and cultural tradition, and in this way, we thought, the special influences which Communism exerts on the personality of youth would become most obviously apparent. But a few days in Prague (preceded by a short reconnaissance in Vienna) were enough to show us that the story was more interesting than that. For in spite of the utterly different political context Czechoslovak youth was, in its attitudes, strikingly similar to that of Austria. How had this come about in a state that was for long the most severe and Stalinist of Communist satellites?
Somehow we had to show the ordinary everyday lives of young people with all their natural vigour, adventurousness, impatience, anxiety, restlessness, earnestness and fun as being, in this sense, extraordinary. This sort of thing is not something you can write straightforwardly into a film script; it is a feeling that has to be absorbed invisibly, an atmosphere that must assert itself rather than appear in the form of a plain statement.
Despite the old style dancing lessons, today ‘big beat’ dominates the scene as it does in most western societies. In Prague alone there are around 80 beat groups, only recently tolerated by the authorities. Many of the singers – top left and above – pound out the words in English. Anyway it certainly keeps couples like those on the top right happy.
I think what helped us most was a remark made by one of the few Party members we met who seemed able to take in his stride the attitudes of modern Czechoslovak youth today. ‘You can’t bring children up on revolutionary principles,’ he said, ‘and expect them not to be revolutionary in their turn.’ And it was from this concept of the Revolution of 1948 as parent that we created the mood of our film about the lives of young Czechoslovaks today. Like all children in their relationship with their parents, as they reach adolescence, these young people largely take for granted the care and thought that has gone into their upbringing and concentrate on reaction against rigidity and dogmatism. Such reaction and the search for a personal destiny is a necessary and healthy aspect of all growing up. But at the same time there comes a delicate moment in the development of this reaction where the whole relationship may be endangered. And it is at this moment that there is a need for a new responsibility on the part of the parent: the responsibility to show understanding and flexibility.
That the Czechoslovak Communist Party is aware of this need was made clear to us not only by the considerable changes in economic and other attitudes that are under way, but more concretely by a considerable amount of film material on the whole subject of modern Czechoslovak youth which we found had just been completed. The standard of Czech camera work is extremely high – higher, I would say, than much of our own in Britain, though their technical equipment is far inferior – and we were particularly impressed by films such as Jan Spata’s astonishingly outspoken ‘The Greatest Wish’ and Kurt Goldberger’s ‘Children Without Love’, a sensitive study of the harmful emotional effects of too much state ‘parenthood’ in nurseries and institutions at an early age. From these films, with the co-operation of the Czechoslovak authorities we were able to take any extracts we wanted to match our own shooting of as many varied aspects as possible of the lives of ordinary young Czechoslovaks today.
In Communist Czechoslovakia, then, growing up is the same complex, bewildering, and yet exciting business that it is in the rest of modern society. In some way it may even be slightly easier for youth in Czechoslovakia to find a direction for themselves, because in a totalitarian environment it may be easier to see what you want to steer away from. But what is common to both ‘western’ and ‘Czechoslovak Communist’ youth today is the strain of trying to find your own way in a society which, as most children do their parents, youth regards as in many ways inadequate and unsatisfactory, and yet necessary. That, in this special context, is what this film is about.
Written and narrated by robert kee
Camera: gilbert knight tony mander jan spata
Sound: don alton freddie slade
Programme organiser reginald courtney-browne
Film editor david gill
Executive producer david windlesham
Director randal beattie
Photographs by Vlasta Gronska