Please join the East Central European Center at the Harriman Institute for a 50th-anniversary screening of the classic Czech film Witchhammer (Kladivo na čarodějnice, 1969, directed by Otakar Vávra). Introduction and post-film discussion led by Christopher Harwood, Lecturer in Czech at Columbia University. Film run time: 103 minutes.
Widely considered the high point of Otakar Vávra's extraordinarily prolific 60-year screenwriting and directorial career, Witchhammer was one of the last politically daring films of the Czechoslovak New Wave period to reach a large domestic audience before the post-1968 invasion "Normalization" regime fully clamped down on freedom of expression. Vávra and his co-screenwriter Ester Krumbachová drew not only from Václav Kaplický's 1963 historical novel of the same name, but also from newly translated transcripts of court proceedings documenting the late 17th-century historical events in northern Moravia on which the novel and film are based. Vávra was inspired to dramatize those early modern witch hunts and present them as a historical precedent and analogy to the Stalinist show trials in Prague in the early 1950s. Czechoslovak audiences in 1970 had no difficulty reading the allegory, even as they dreaded the possibility of a new wave of political trials following the 1968 Soviet invasion.