Karel Vachek: Poet Provacateur (I)
October 27, 2009 (Tue) - 7:00pm, Harvard Film Archive

Balgan Film Series in collaboration with The Film Study Center, the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies, the Department of Slavic Languages and Literatures, the Davis Center Literature and Culture Seminarat at Harvard University are pleased to welcome Karel Vachek, the groundbreaking Czech filmmaker whose works mix cinema verité, improvisation, and staged scenes, creating a fascinating perspective on the political and intellectual history of the Czech Republic.

Little known outside his own country, the poet provocateur and philosopher Karel Vachek (b. 1940) is one of the Czech cinema’s most original talents. His recent works, so-called "film-novels," are antic, obsessive, kaleidoscopic epics of impressive cinematic skill and enormous scope and ambition. His works reveal the proximity between the serious and absurd sides of life with a viewpoint that is belligerent, comic and shrewd.

A teacher at FAMU, the Czech National Film Academy, since 1994, and head of its documentary department since 2002, Vachek has gained a growing reputation as one of the Czech Republic’s greatest living directors.

This presentation is part of a touring series curated by Irena Kovarova and Alice Lovejoy. Produced by Radim Procházka Productions with the support of The Czech Republic State Fund for Support and Development of Cinematography.


"Mixing cinema verité, improvisation, and staged scenes, Vachek’s polyphonic films border on chaos; yet for those who are patient, his carefully selected threads weave into a fascinating and informative perspective on the political and intellectual history of the Czech Republic"
— Kathy Geritz, UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive

“If you haven’t figured it out by now, these movies resist easy descriptive grasp — their restlessness, sprawl and genre-defying sense of play must be experienced, heavy a time investment as that might seem. They are not, however, ‘heavy’ films, but frequently delightful ones." — Dennis Harvey, SF360

"Like Michael Moore, whose desire for provocation he shares, or Ross McElwee, like Vachek at times a picaresque figure, Vachek is a central presence in all of his films, in deep conversation (often argument) with his subjects." — Alice Lovejoy


Závis, the Prince of Pornofolk under the Influence of Griffith’s 'Intolerance' and Tati’s 'Mr. Hulot’s Holiday', or The Foundation and Doom of Czechoslovakia [1918 – 1992] (35mm, 147min, 2006) A dog's funeral becomes part of a chain of absurd events including a tomato ketchup battle, a reconstruction of the battle of Austerlitz and a motorbike show. Its common denominator is the commercial interest of sponsors and big business, the ambivalent winners of privatization and participants of numerous corruption affairs. Vachek debates corruption and environmental disaster, but insists that there is an alternative. Against the mass of "pseudoevents" is the independent techno-party CzechTekk, raided by the police despite the fact that it was entirely law-abiding, whose participants are Vachek believes to be the new "unionists".

"The director presents in isolated takes the provocativeness and oddities of normal life and, in this sense, offers a thoughtful and (for the audience) demanding study of occurrences in front of the camera. From ketchup contests at tomato tournaments right through to a nonsensically over-adorned pet cemetery, from kids in large soap bubbles to a stuffed polar bear – all these pictures form a mosaic which catches the state of the nation through personal space rather than from the public arena. ... Závis¼ conveys provocative shots of cultural artefacts, personalities as well as historical and national eccentricities which are deposed in the directors own personal space." - Alice Lovejoy