Program Type: 
Animating Dark Dreams: The Films of Jan Svankmajer
November 08, 2012 - November 29, 2012
Screening Room


Animating Dark Dreams: The Films of Jan Svankmajer
Thu–Sat, Nov 8–29  •  7:30pm
Double Feature on Nov. 11
Screening Room
Admission per screening: $10 Regular/ $8 YBCA members students, seniors, teachers

“Sadly, our civilization has no time for dreams. There’s no money in them.” – Jan Svankmajer

We present a retrospective of the brilliant Czech animator, Jan Svankmajer, celebrated for his blending of stop–motion animation, claymation, puppetry, and live action. The series concludes with the local premiere of his latest feature, Surviving Life. Born in 1934 in Prague, where he still lives, Svankmajer made his first film in 1964 and has gained a reputation as one of the world's foremost animators, influencing filmmakers from Tim Burton to The Brothers Quay.

Svankmajer takes inspiration from a wide range of literary sources, including Lewis Carroll, Goethe, Edgar Allen Poe, the Marquis de Sade, and Czech folk tales. His work has a deliberately raw, hand–made aesthetic (he is opposed to digital animation), and no matter how weird things get they are almost always rooted in physical reality. His films are delightfully subversive, perhaps as a response to the oppressive nature of life in Czechoslovakia before the fall of the Iron Curtain. Svankmajer is a lifelong surrealist, and believer in the power of art to liberate people from domestication by civilization.

This touring series is organized by Irena Kovarova, independent film programmer. Additional support provided by the Czech Center New York.

Back To Top


  • Alice
    Nov 8, 2012 6:30pm
    Screening Room

    New 35mm print!
    When Alice follows the White Rabbit into Wonderland, so begins this dream expedition into the astonishing landscape of childhood, through dangerous adventures, and ultimately to Alice's trial before the King and Queen of Hearts. Svankmajer’s first feature film, this is a deeply original interpretation of Lewis Carroll's classic tale, blending extraordinary visual effects with menacing dream logic. (1989, 84 min, 35mm)

  • Lunacy
    Nov 11, 2012 1:00pm
    Screening Room

    Lunacy is loosely based on short stories by Edgar Allan Poe and inspired by the works of the Marquis de Sade. Described by the director as a “philosophical horror film,” it combines Grand Guignol–style terror, black comedy, and quite a lot of animated meat. “A forceful argument for the primacy of the body and its senses over the mind and rationality... Each aspect of the film is a confrontation of the senses, a shock delivered directly into the audience’s sensorium.” – Not Coming to a Theater Near You (2006, 119 min, 35mm).

    Double feature followed by Little Otik.

  • Little Otik
    Nov 11, 2012 3:30pm
    Screening Room

    Svankmajer mixes wicked humor, subversive politics, and love of mythology into a unique fable. An ordinary couple, Karel and Bozena, are unable to conceive a child. When Karel digs up a tree root and whittles something vaguely resembling a human baby, Bozena's maternal longings transform the stump into a living creature with a (literally) monstrous appetite that can't be met with baby formula. (2000, 127 min, 35mm).

    Double feature preceded by Lunacy.

  • Svankmajer Shorts
    Nov 15, 2012 6:30pm
    Screening Room

    Some of Svankmajer’s finest and most subversive work is to be found in his shorts. This program presents a selection of eight shorts, including The Garden, featured in the 2011 Venice Biennial.

    Flat (1968, 13 min, digital)
    The Garden (1968, 19 min, digital)
    Jabberwocky (1971, 12 min, 35mm)
    Dimensions Of Dialogue (1983, 11 min, 35mm)
    Another Kind Of Love (1988, 4 min, digital)
    Flora (1989, 20 sec, digital)
    Meat In Love (1989, 1 min, digital)
    Food (1992, 17 min, 35mm)

    Total program running time: 78 min

  • Faust
    Nov 17, 2012 6:30pm
    Screening Room

    Svankmajer takes on the myth of Faust, presided over by diabolic life–sized marionettes and haunted by skulking human messengers from hell. Stocked with puppet versions of Goethe and Christopher Marlowe’s characters, this tour–de–force work is alternately hilarious and shocking, blurring the lines between fantasy and reality. (aka: Lesson Faust) (1994, 97 min, 35mm)

  • Conspirators of Pleasure
    Nov 25, 2012 1:00pm
    Screening Room

    Modern day Prague is the setting for the story of six ordinary, if somewhat seedy individuals, who obsessively and painstakingly prepare sexual "feasts." Like fastidious but inspired chefs, they concoct — with the aid of a variety of strange objects, animals, devices and processes — an orgasmic meal of hilarious and literally explosive results. As their solitary paths crisscross, Svankmajer condenses the sexual, the social and the political in a society still breaking with the habits of a sexually puritanical past. (1996, 83 min, 35mm)

  • Surviving Life
    Nov 29, 2012 6:30pm
    Screening Room

    Svankmajer’s newest film is an offbeat, psychoanalytical comedy, the story of a married man who has two lives, one waking and one in dreams, which blur into each other. A subversive satire on Freudian theory, Surviving Life confirms the 78-year-old filmmaker’s reputation as a master of contemporary surrealism. (2010, 109 min, 35mm)

Back To Top

Related Programs

October 12, 2012 - January 27, 2013
Downstairs Galleries

Swedish-born artist Nathalie Djurberg’s unsettling menagerie of more than eighty freestanding bird sculptures is presented along with five animated films with music and sound effects by her partner and collaborator Hans Berg.

November 9, 2012 - 7:00pm
Large Conference Room

This month, YBCA’s Film Curator Joel Shepard celebrates Czech animator Jan Svankmajer, celebrated for his blending of stop–motion animation, claymation, puppetry, and live action. Join YBCA:You as we delve even deeper into Svankmajer’s works and the world of animation.

Joel's Blog

  |  Follow Joel Shepard on Tumblr »

YBCA's programs are made possible in part by:
Abundance Foundation
Koret Foundation
National Endowment for the Arts
Lam Research

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts is grateful to the City of San Francisco for its ongoing support.