“Beyond the Wall” is a documentary that looks at how the abrupt political changes of the 1980s affected Central Europeans. The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989 symbolized the end of the Cold War and spurred on the peaceful revolutions that caused Communism to crumble.
Using period film footage and on-camera interviews, film makers Rob Dennis and Mark Byne uncover the complexities of living under totalitarian rule.
Featuring dissidents, artists, escape organizers and ordinary people in Germany, the Czech Republic and Poland, ‘Beyond the Wall” humanizes life under Communism and highlights the complex issues that still face the region.
“The stories of living in a totalitarian country are often complicated and dichotomic,” said Susan Chandler, director of the Czech Heritage Museum in Temple.
“People had their basic needs met - housing, a job, food, healthcare, vacations. One could live a decent life if they did not think too hard about it. Which made it most difficult for artists, scientists, philosophers and anthropologists. Art was heavily censured. Science was sacrificed to popular doctrines. Free thinking was criminal – people were jailed for it. The activities of outside cultures were debunked. Travel was strictly regulated.
“Free education was provided to some but could be easily denied. If your grandparents had been a bit middle class under the free democracy period, by owning a few acres and farming it, or if your third cousin had left during the Prague Spring in 1968, that could disqualify even a devout communist from a college education, even in 1988, regardless of excellent test scores and school records.
“It was dangerous to question the obviously absurd ideologies, systems and regulations, so people found ways to survive, psychologically. Therefore young Czech artists such as Vaclav Havel wrote in the genre of the theater of the absurd. It was the actual matrix in which they were living. These works were smuggled out to the West, which eventually brought help,” Chandler said.
“From what our European visitors to the Museum have been telling me the last few years, knowledge is once more in jeopardy. They tell me that people are forgetting – or never knew – how things were under communism,” said Chandler.
For more on this topic, visit this interview of John Bok with Radio Prague