Independent Reality: The Films of Jan Němec
Co-presented with the National Gallery of Art
April 19-June 29

Following its U.S. series premiere at BAMcinématek, AFI Silver and the National Gallery of Art proudly present the films of Jan Němec, a key figure in the Czechoslovak New Wave, though one whose films haven't received the same international attention as those of his contemporaries Milos Forman, Jirí Menzel and Vera Chytilová.

The screenings presented by AFI Silver Theatre are part of a touring retrospective of Jan Němec films, Independent of Reality: The Films of Jan Němec, in North America, premiered by BAMcinématek in New York. The retrospective is produced by Comeback Company, curated by Irena Kovarova and organized in partnership with the National Film Archive, Prague, Aerofilms and Jan Němec–Film. Film notes courtesy of Irena Kovarova. For more information on the North American tour of this retrospective, visit For films screening at the National Gallery of Art, visit

AFI Member passes will be accepted at all screenings.

50th Anniversary!
New 35mm print!

Němec's conviction that a director must create "a personal style" and "a world independent of reality as it appears at the time" was already evident in his first feature-length film. DIAMONDS OF THE NIGHT follows the escape of two young concentration camp prisoners through the woods of Sudetenland and the ensuing pursuit for them. Moving freely between the present, dreams, and flashbacks, Němec employs an aesthetic of pure cinema to depict the state of the distressed human mind. "Němec purposefully scrambles past and present, handheld realism and Buñuellian surrealism. It's a torrent of life—and cinema—in the face of death." –Time Out New York.

DIR/SCR Jan Němec, from the story "Darkness Has No Shadows" by Arnost Lustig. Czechoslovakia, 1964, b&w, 63 min, 35mm. In Czech and German with English subtitles. NOT RATED

Preceded by:

This absurdist tale about a doting mother of a brutal torturer was shot without permission of Czechoslovak authorities on a special commission from the Amsterdam Film Festival and later won the main award at the International Short Film Festival Oberhausen. DIR/SCR Jan Němec. Czechoslovakia/West Germany/Netherlands, 1967, b&w, 10 min, Digibeta.


Based on a story by Arnost Lustig, Němec's graduation film follows the story of starving prisoners plotting to steal a piece of bread from a parked train in preparation for their escape (a subject that echoes that of DIAMONDS OF THE NIGHT). DIR/SCR Jan Němec. Czechoslovakia, 1960, b&w, 11 min, 35mm.


Sat, Apr 19, 11:10 a.m.; Sun, Apr 20, 8:30

PEARLS OF THE DEEP [Perlicky na dne]

A manifesto of the Czechoslovak New Wave, this anthology of five short films by five rising directors is based on a book by celebrated writer Bohumil Hrabal. Absurdist in style, with a heightened attention to the individual, Hrabal's work broke with the socialist realism that dominated the era. Němec's story ("The Imposters" [Podvodníci]) is the simplest stylistically, chronicling two elderly men who share stories of their illustrious life careers while spending time together in a hospital. Ultimately they reveal themselves to be masters of the art of embellishment.

DIR/SCR Jan Němec, Vera Chytilová, Jaromil Jires, Jirí Menzel, Evald Schorm. Czechoslovakia, 1966, b&w, 107 min, 35mm. In Czech and Romany with English subtitles. NOT RATED


Sun, Apr 20, 11:10 a.m.; Mon, Apr 21, 7:20

LATE NIGHT TALKS WITH MOTHER [Nocní hovory s matkou]

After his return from exile, Němec delved immediately into filmmaking. Unlike his generational peers, he did not rely on existing structures and began producing films independently, continuing to develop a personal style without regard for generally accepted rules. Experimenting with digital video formats, this counterpart to Kafka's "Letter to Father" finds the director probing his own psyche in the form of a confessional dialogue with his long-deceased mother. Němec turns a fish-eye lens on himself and his birthplace of Prague to create an experimental personal essay film, an "autodocumentary," which the jury at Locarno International Film Festival recognized with a Golden Leopard for the best video film in 2001.

DIR/SCR Jan Němec. Czech Republic, 2001, b&w/color, 68 min, Betacam. In Czech with English subtitles. NOT RATED

Preceded by:

Using funds from abroad, Němec documented the exciting times of the so-called Prague Spring and the road to "socialism with a human face." With film stock and camera at his disposal, he was ready to document the invasion by Soviet tanks, which crushed the democratization process. The film juxtaposes the hopes of the freewheeling youth during the spring with the disbelief and despair that followed in the summer a few months later. DIR/SCR Jan Němec. Czechoslovakia, 1968, b&w/color, 29 min, 35mm.


Mon, Apr 28, 9:00