Otakar Vávra

Otakar Vávra

Otakar Vávra in 1980
Born (1911-02-28)28 February 1911
Hradec Králové, Austria-Hungary
Died 15 September 2011(2011-09-15) (aged 100)
Prague, Czech Republic
Occupation Film director and script writer

Otakar Vávra (28 February 1911 15 September 2011)[1] was a Czech film director, screenwriter and pedagogue.[2] He was born in Hradec Králové, Austria-Hungary, now part of the Czech Republic.


Vávra attended universities in Brno and Prague, where he studied architecture. During 1929–30, while still a student, he participated in the making of a handful of documentaries and wrote movie scripts. In 1931, he produced the experimental film Světlo proniká tmou. The first movie he directed was 1937's Filosofská historie.

His first feature film was 1938's Cech panen Kutnohorských, starring Zorka Janů, sister of legendary Czech actress Lída Baarová. Janů also played in Vávra's films Podvod s Rubensem and Pacientka Dr. Hegela, both from 1940. Baarová starred in Vávra's films Panenství (1937), Maskovaná milenka (1939), Dívka v modrém (1939), and Turbína (1941).

After the Communists seized power in 1948, Vávra adapted quickly to the new political climate and produced films praising the current regime and supporting the new, official interpretation of the past.

In the 1950s he produced the "Hussite Trilogy", one of his most famous works, consisting of Jan Hus (1954), Jan Žižka (1955) and Proti všem (Against All Odds, 1957).[3]

When the government became more liberal in the 1960s, Vávra's cinema entered into his most prolific period, producing Zlatá reneta (1965), Romance pro křídlovku (1966), Kladivo na čarodějnice (1969), and later Komediant (1984). His 1967 film Romance for Bugle was entered into the 5th Moscow International Film Festival where it won the Special Silver Prize.[4] His 1973 film Days of Betrayal was entered into the 8th Moscow International Film Festival where it won a Diploma.[5] In 1979 he was a member of the jury at the 11th Moscow International Film Festival.[6]

When the Communists fell from power in 1989, state subsidies for the film industry were dropped and Vávra's plans for an historical epic titled Evropa tančila valčík had to be scaled down.

In the 1950s, Otakar Vávra, together with a group of fellow Czech film directors, established the Film Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague (Filmová Akademia muzických umění or FAMU), where he taught for over five decades. Among his students were several directors of the 1960s "Czech New Wave" of art films, including future Oscar-winner Miloš Forman (One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, Amadeus).


Otakar Vávra's decades-long career as a film director, from the 1930s through the 1990s, epitomized the tradition of middle-European filmmaking. This tradition ended in Germany and Austria at the end of World War II and ended in the Czech Republic after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. Around that time, Vávra began his autobiography Podivný život režiséra (Strange Life of a Movie Director), which concluded with "...and now I wait for the end. My end."

Otakar Vávra is often called the "father of Czech cinema". In 2001, he was awarded the Czech Lion (Český lev) for his lifelong contribution to Czech culture.[7] In 2004, he received the presidential Medal of Merit (Medaile za zásluhy).[8]

Vávra's critics point to his willingness to accommodate the Communist regime.[9] In a 2003 article ("Playing the Villain", The Globe and Mail, May 15, 2003) about his documentary film, Hitler and I that he shot in Prague, David Cherniack described the following encounter with his former FAMU Head Professor:

Having lived in a police state for four years and seen the difficult choices that people make between ends and means, I decide to interview my head professor from the academy, National Artist Otakar Vavra. Now 92 but still very sharp, Vavra made 50 feature films under every regime from the thirties on, including the seven years of the Nazi occupation. Though he maintains he was serving his films and the public by doing the minimum necessary to co-operate, others are of the view that he was serving himself. The films of his that I've seen tend to be rather didactic history lessons.

I meet him at the Theatre Restaurant where he lunches every day and still conducts business. Behind the bluster and razor-sharp intellect that is still very much present, I sense a sad and isolated old man who feels he should be enjoying the adulation of his country and not being as ignored as he is. My own Fritz Gerlich (a Catholic newspaper editor executed in Dachau during the Night of the Long Knives) was our teaching assistant, the New Wave director Evald Schorm. Unlike Vavra, he refused to sign a paper agreeing with the 1968 occupation by the Warsaw Pact. Schorm went to his own Dachau. He was forced to leave the school and filmmaking and go direct operas in Brno. One of the Czech actors on the set tells me he died an embittered man shortly before the Velvet Revolution. Reality is always more complex than the stories we tell about it.

Vávra's Krakatit (1948) is based on Karel Čapek's 1924 novel of the same name and contains a strong anti-war message. It centers around an inventor of explosives who tries to keep his invention hidden from those who want to use it to rule the world. The black-and-white original was followed by a 1980 color remake, Temné slunce, which brings the storyline into the modern era. The later version is generally seen as one of Vávra's lesser efforts.

Otakar Vávra's most acclaimed work is widely considered to be Romance pro křídlovku (1966). This black-and-white film is based on a poem by Czech lyrical poet František Hrubín and concerns an ill-fated summer romance between two young lovers of different backgrounds.



  1. Lucie Weissová (16 September 2011). "Zemřel legendární český režisér Otakar Vávra" (in Czech). Czech Radio. Retrieved 16 September 2011.
  2. "Otakar Vávra". csfd.cz. Retrieved 2011-09-18.
  3. Brian Kenety (16 September 2011). "Iconic Czech film director Otakar Vávra dies aged 100" (in Czech). Retrieved 17 September 2011.
  4. "5th Moscow International Film Festival (1967)". MIFF. Retrieved 2012-12-16.
  5. "8th Moscow International Film Festival (1973)". MIFF. Retrieved 2013-01-03.
  6. "11th Moscow International Film Festival (1979)". MIFF. Retrieved 2013-01-14.
  7. "Filmové recenze, novinky v kinech, české filmy - Kinobox.cz". Cfn.cz. Retrieved 2013-10-07.
  8. "Medal of Merit". Archived from the original on 2009-02-07. Retrieved 2013-12-10.
  9. "Otakar Vavra dies aged 100". BBC News. Retrieved 2011-09-18.
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