01 June, 2010

Honoring Czech Legend Zdenek Sverák

by Sandy Mandelberger, North American Editor

Few European film stars have a topical resonance outside of their native countries. However, for many, the Czech actor/screenwriter Zdenek Sverák is the face of contemporary Czech cinema. For this year's 50th anniversary Jubilee edition of the Zlin Film Festival (, held in the UNESCO Heritage City of Zlin in northeastern Czech Republic, several programs heralding Czech cinema of the past and the present are among this year's highlights. This includes a special sidebar for actor/writer/composer Zdenek Sverák, one of Czech cinema's best known faces and talents.

Zdenek Sverák is a true renaissance man, having scaled the heights of the film, theater and television worlds as both an actor, composer and award-winning screenwriter. However, he was not groomed for a career in the arts. "My father planned for me to study electrical wiring", he was quoted as saying in the Festival Catalogue. "At the last moment I managed to change my university application towards the field of Czech language and literature."

But what can one do with a degree in literature? At first he became a professor known for his pedagogic excellence. That eventually led to a stint as a broadcast editor and author . At the same time, he discovered theater and his natural acting ability. However, it became clear to the young man that audiences were more enraptured with film than they were with live theater, so he decided to conquer yet another medium. In 1968, the same year as the famous "Prague Spring", he made his film debut in CRIME IN A MUSIC HALL, where he played a highly unlikeable character.

He continued acting in Czech films, while also becoming a highly respected screenwriter, working in genres from comedy to tragedy, with a working class edge. He eventually was employed by the famed Barrandov Film Studios in their screenwriting department and penned many of the important screenplays of the 1970s and 1980s, while continuing his acting career.

His best known work came a decade later as he collaborated with his son Jan Sverák on the films that have made his international reputation. In THE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL (1991), a semi-autobiographical film, he mines the poetic and melancholic moments of his own childhood, while playing the role of his own father. Five years later, he played another father in the Oscar winning film KOLYA, which he also co-wrote with his director son. KOLYA was a major international hit, while also winning double Czech Lions for his performance and the film's screenplay. He recently was again nominated for his dual role as an actor and screenwriter for the celebrated film EMPTIES in 2007. At the age of 74, he continues his acting career, last appearing in the family film KOOKY, again directed by his son Jan Sverák.

The celebrated actor/screenwriter will be in Zlin later this week to be feted by the Festival and be heralded for a career unique in the cinema of any an award-winning actor, writer, composer and film legend.

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