Jan Palach: 50 Years On

Posted 15 January 2019 about Jan Palach + Q&A with director Robert Sedlácek.

jan palach

50 years ago, on the 16th of January 1969, the philosophy student and political activist Jan Palach set himself on fire in Wenceslas Square in central Prague.

He did so to protest the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia that crushed the so-called ‘Prague Spring’ - a series of mass protests and liberalising reforms that began in January 1968 with the election of the reformist politician Alexander Dubček, and ended in August of that year when Soviet forces and other members of the Warsaw Pact invaded the country.

Palach died three days later from his wounds, on the 19th of January 1969. He was 21 years old.

To commemorate this extraordinary and inconceivable act of self-sacrifice in the name of democracy, the Showroom Cinema are screening a brand-new biopic about Palach on the anniversary of his death. The eponymously titled film, Jan Palach, details the last six months of Palach’s life, recreating events based on the available source material about his life, and speculating about what might have been going through his mind at the time.

Just as public life, the appearance of the streets, and the people were all changing dramatically in the autumn of 1968 (a year of political turmoil, mass protests and revolutionary action across the world) so too was something happening with Jan.

Why did no one - his girlfriend, his mother, or his fellow students - notice anything? Or did they notice, but because everything else was in chaos too, perhaps they saw Jan's transformation as a natural outgrowth of what was going on around them?

Jan Palach is an impressive, atmospheric work that successfully paints a compelling portrait of a profoundly principled and uncompromising young man who made the ultimate sacrifice in the hope of rousing a nation from lethargy. It details, with tremendous sensitivity, Palach’s path from an affectionate son, devoted friend, and sensitive and thoughtful philosophy student, to 'Torch number one'.

The film is the latest work from the Czech filmmaker Robert Sedlácek, and we’re honoured to be welcoming the director himself to the screening for an in-person Q&A (in Czech, with interpretation into English).

Jan Palach is screening at the Showroom Cinema at 3.30pm on Saturday the 19th January 2019. The film is being presented in partnership with the Czech & Slovak Society Sheffield.

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