Former students, now parents, use animated toys to explain 1989 Velvet Revolution to children

The Velvet Revolution that kicked off in Prague 25 years ago Monday was a seminal event in the collapse of communism. Try explaining that to children who have only known democracy.

That's the challenge tackled by two veterans of the uprising as the massive student protests faded ever further into the past. They wanted to capture the excitement of the rallies, the brutality of police beatings and the surreal repression of a nation that Vaclav Havel — later president — dubbed "Absurdistan."

So renowned puppet designer Miroslav Trejtnar and filmmaker Tatana Markova teamed up to present the Velvet Revolution in a 30-minute movie that tells the story of more than a dozen children of the revolution — now parents — through the magic of animation.

"The parents are telling their children why they joined the demonstration, why they wanted a change," Trejtnar said. "It's about a turning point that they didn't experience."

"We used animation to present it in a form familiar to them," said Markova, "so the story becomes lively for them."

In the movie, the parents choose a toy — a small human figure or animal — and tell their own story by moving it on a big map of Prague. The toys are then animated to play out the drama of the events that toppled communism in Czechoslovakia.

On Nov. 17, 1989, fiery speeches at a university campus inspired thousands of students to march downtown toward Wenceslas Square. As darkness fell, police cracked down hard, beating demonstrators with truncheons and injuring hundreds in the melee. Unbowed, the students went on strike and the crowds mushroomed, something the authorities were soon unable to contain. On Dec. 29, Havel became the country's first democratically elected president in a half-century.

"It's really tough to explain to them the overall atmosphere — what we could do and what was banned, what could get us into trouble and how complicated everything was," said Daniela Kramerova, who participates in the film with her daughter Mariana.

The film took about four years to make, and its creators raised the funds through a crowd-funding campaign.

Trejtnar said he hopes the movie will inspire children to take a larger interest in history. "If they don't like something," he said, "they should try to change it."

One 12-year-old girl who learned the story of her parents through the movie organized a protest against billboards in her neighborhood.

"We didn't encourage her to do it," Trejtnar said. "She's a clever girl."

The film "What to Tell the Kids?" premieres on Monday. It will be screened in the open air on the same Prague street where police attacked the students 25 years ago.