Rare footage of Prague Zoo in the 1930s discovered in Austria

Thirteen film reels showing Prague Zoo in the 1930s were donated to the Austrian Film Museum, and curators are trying to identify their creator.

Jason Pirodsky

Written by Jason Pirodsky Published on 25.02.2023 13:24:00 (updated on 26.02.2023) Reading time: 2 minutes

Rare and previously unseen film showcasing Prague Zoo in the 1930s was recently donated to the Austrian Film Museum and passed through to the zoo, and their creator has yet to be identified. Zoo officials have turned to the public for help in identifying them.

The footage is contained within thirteen film reels totaling around five hours, and showcases Prague Zoo from 1934-37. The film captures the zoo's founder, Professor Jiří Janda, along with his wife Ludmila, and a variety of other scenes and animals from around the Prague landmark, which was opened in 1931.

Prague Zoo held a press conference on Thursday to present the footage, and have released individual images from the films on their website and some short clips on their YouTube channel.

Captured just years after the zoo had opened, the footage is some of the earliest and most extensive of Prague Zoo at the time. It showcases the Zoo's animals and caretakers, as well as local celebrities including Czech actress Zita Kabátová, who can be seen posing with bear cubs.

But zoo officials only became aware of the footage within the past year, when contacted by the Austrian Film Museum's Stefanie Zingl. She was attempting to shed some light on the films, which were given to the museum by an anonymous donor in 2010 and likely obtained from a flea market.

"I saw the film footage for the first time via a satellite phone in a Mongolian yurt a year ago and was fascinated by them," Prague Zoo director Miroslav Bobek told reporters at a press conference on Thursday.

While officials were able to identify the zoo's founder and his wife from the footage, as well as some other patrons, they were unable to identify the creator of the footage.

Judging by accompanying reels that showcase other scenes, the film's author is assumed to be a lieutenant colonel in the Czechoslovak Army, who occasionally handed the camera to others so he could pose with the zoo's animals.

An unknown woman, presumed to be his wife or partner, can also be seen throughout the footage. One reel, most likely from 1937, showcases army activities, while a later reel from 1945 also depicts a military setting.

The footage was captured on Pathé Baby film, which had a width of 9.5 mm but perforations between the frames that gave the footage a wider appearance, almost equivalent to 16 mm. One of the reels was shot in color using the British Dufaycolor process.

Unable to identify the creator of the films or other information about their origin, zoo officials are now asking for the public's help. If you recognize anyone in the footage, Prague Zoo would love to hear from you.

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