Petr Skala (b. 1947) is a founding father of Czech postwar experimental film, though his work remained unknown even to his close friends until the mid-1980s. Along with Radek Pilař, he is also one of the pioneers of video art in the Czech Republic. Trained at Prague’s Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts (the famed FAMU), Skala graduated in 1975 and for more than a decade worked as a documentary filmmaker, though he had trouble finding stable employment, having being deemed “unreliable” by the regime. Working under unfavorable circumstances, he was constrained but not deterred by censorship and self-censorship from writing and directing the films he wanted to make (in addition to directing promotional films and a variety of radio programs to make money).
Not satisfied internally by this work, however, Skala led a parallel life from 1967, when he began to experiment with the techniques available for creating purely abstract, camera-less films by hand on 16 mm film. He engraved, scratched, drew, painted, and applied heat and chemicals to both raw and exposed film stock. He also built his own optical printer and used everyday substances to conduct amateur chemical experiments on the surface of film emulsion. Working in this way, he produced during the Czechoslovak “normalization” of the 1970s “experiments with the film medium [that] stemmed from his . . . need to give shape to his inward visions and . . . explore new alternatives of artistic expression." Notably, he did so in complete solitude and obscurity. The first public screenings of his films—attended predominantly by a small circle of friends—were held only in the second half of the 1980s, after restrictions on such events had eased and Skala had been accidentally exposed to the work of other experimental filmmakers through an Austrian TV signal that could be received in southern Bohemia.