Behold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightened

In this English issue of dok.revue we have collected some remembrances to Karel Vachek, the respected Czech documentarist who died in December 2020 at the age of 80. One of the contributors is Olaf Möller, a well-known film theorist and critic collaborating with many renowned film magazines (Film Comment or Sight & Sound), film museums and festivals (e.g. Il Cinema Ritrovato or International Film Festival Rotterdam).

Karel Vachek at the end of the 1960´s. The photo is a part of the book called Vachek which is supposed to be published this year in Czech. Photo: Karel Vachek´s archive.

The sheer length of his titles often seemed to defeat the curious, of which in truth there never were that many, especially outside his realm which is something different from a country, for the latter changed its shape and bearing while the former (here: an ideal state of mind) remained true to itself, just like Karel Vachek. His realm is Czech culture and history, and their place among the cultures and histories of Europe. His country of birth was the ČSSR which he left when during Normalisation it became too normal to harass, persecute or sequester those with a different Normal on their mind, and to which he returned upon finding out that the rest of the world was alien to his realm – and also, because the Normalisation Normal had changed enough for uneasy comfort and security even if that meant making money as a driver and not an artist. The country that nurtured his main period of film production (despite some active reservations of funding entities...) is the Czech Republic, whose sometimes comical and sometimes tragical attempts at finding an identity that squares different with unchanged, Vachek reported, documented, commented on and reflected upon like no other filmmaker local or foreign ever could let alone dared.

It says a lot about the world not only of cinema that this adventure was widely ignored. When Vachek returned to filmmaking for real and good with New Hyperion or Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood (Nový Hyperion aneb Volnost, rovnost, bratrství; 1992), Part One of his give-or-take 16h adventure Tetralogy The Small Capitalist (Tetralogie Malý kapitalista; 1992-2002), the international movie culture mainstream just turned its interest away from the cinematographies of Central and Eastern Europe to focus on countries like Iran and the People Republic of China, which now got scrutinized and chastised the same way the GDR, ČSSR, USSR etc. had gotten scrutinized and chastised before. This is all very much about claims of cultural superiority – which Vachek often implicitly and sometimes even explicitly ridiculed apropos the Czech Republic's attempts at playing along and blending in. One could even go so far to say that Vachek's aesthetic of opposites at play and the importance of the fringes to the centre was a threat to all that which defines this culture of hubris. While Moravian Hellas (Moravská Hellas; 1963) and Elective Affinities (Spřízněni volbou; 1968) are on the surface mighty fine examples of direct cinema, an essayistic edge is already noticeable – come New Hyperion or Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood (Nový Hyperion aneb Volnost, rovnost, bratrství; 1992) this edge becomes the core, with direct cinema being now but one element at play with various others. From New Hyperion on, Vachek strove relentlessly for a balance of extremes which essentially meant combining fly-on-the-wall-, shot-from-the-hip-material with theatrically staged scenes, excursions on mushrooms with hard looks at the politics of the day, FAMU classroom discussions with performance-like monologues by celebrities and nobodies alike, and whatever else might fit in here or there, help elucidate this opaque-seeming point and obfuscate that oh so obvious-sounding line of thought – call it: action collages, pop-up Palais idéaux...! In all that, Vachek is never hectoring or self-righteous, but invariably cheekily self-assured, curious, educated and above all playful – yes: playful, the most dangerous attitude an artist can have these dour days. Thus, he was something contemporary culture knows ever less how to deal with: A liberal bourgeois intellectual whose firm convictions about individual liberties and state responsibilities allows for a freedom of thought that can explore even seemingly dangerous ideas with ease. Authoritarianism has no dominion over citizens like him.





more articles from a section:  Theme

1.21Like the dog on the beach...American film historian Alice Lovejoy writes her remembrance of Karel Vachek, the remarkable Czech documentarist to whom we dedicate this English issue of dok.revue.Alice Lovejoy
1.21Every human being should get to wear comfy shoesThe Czech documentarist Karel Vachek was a chairperson of the jury at Yamagata international documentary film festival (YIDFF) in 2009. The board member of YIDFF and the former director of this festival, Asako Fujioka, has a remembrance of him smoking his pipe and going to the mountains with Japanese poet and filmmaker Yoshimasu Gozo to recite poetry to the skies.Asako Fujioka
1.21Never stop laughingPaolo Benzi, the Italian film producer and founder of the independent film production company Okta Film, describes for dok.revue how he met famous Czech documentary filmmaker Karel Vachek, who passed away last year. Paolo Benzi is also the main tutor of the Emerging producers in Ji.hlava IDFF.Paolo Benzi
1.21Nest in the bedroomPeter Hames, well-known British film historian and author of the book The Czechoslovak New Wave sent his remembrance to Karel Vachek to our magazine.Peter Hames
2.20It comes right from the bellyIn this personal essay, a Danish sound designer Peter Albrechtsen remembers one of the world's greatest and most unique modern film composers, Jóhann Jóhannsson. This article was written in 2018, shortly after the Jóhannsson´s death, but has never been published.
1.20There’s more than one feminismA reflection on women documentarians inspired by Barbora Baronová’s book Women on WomenMartin Šrajer
1+2.19Emerging Czech female documentariansIs there a new tide of emerging female documentarians in Czech cinema? What’s fascinating about the work of Czech female filmmakers like Johana Ožvold, Greta Stocklassa or Viera Čákany?Will Tizard
1.18Exprmntl.cz Through Eyes of American Journalist Daniel WalberAmerican freelance critic Daniel Walber focuses on a bunch of Czech experimental movies which were screened at the 21st Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival in the Fascinations: Exprmntl.cz section.Daniel Walber
2.17Why Series SuckCritical essay about the phenomenon Quality TVHanjo Berressem, Nadine Boljkovac
1.17Haptic/Visual Identities – A project between art and researchAgata Mergler and Cristian Villavicencio about their haptic camerasAgata Mergler, Cristian Villavicencio

starší články

1.21DOK.REVUE
18. 03. 2021


from current issue:

New releaseShooting About KunderaDocumentarian Miloslav Šmídmajer describes the process of making a documentary about Milan Kundera with the working title “Milan Kundera: From the Joke to Insignificance.” Miloslav ŠmídmajerThemeNest in the bedroomPeter Hames, well-known British film historian and author of the book The Czechoslovak New Wave sent his remembrance to Karel Vachek to our magazine.Peter HamesThemeNever stop laughingPaolo Benzi, the Italian film producer and founder of the independent film production company Okta Film, describes for dok.revue how he met famous Czech documentary filmmaker Karel Vachek, who passed away last year. Paolo Benzi is also the main tutor of the Emerging producers in Ji.hlava IDFF.Paolo BenziThemeEvery human being should get to wear comfy shoesThe Czech documentarist Karel Vachek was a chairperson of the jury at Yamagata international documentary film festival (YIDFF) in 2009. The board member of YIDFF and the former director of this festival, Asako Fujioka, has a remembrance of him smoking his pipe and going to the mountains with Japanese poet and filmmaker Yoshimasu Gozo to recite poetry to the skies.Asako FujiokaThemeLike the dog on the beach...American film historian Alice Lovejoy writes her remembrance of Karel Vachek, the remarkable Czech documentarist to whom we dedicate this English issue of dok.revue.Alice LovejoyInterviewThe times of lifelong careers are overAn interview with documentarian Jindřich Andrš, whose film A New Shift won the Czech competition section Czech Joy at Ji.hlava IDFF2020.Vojtěch KočárníkInterviewGoing to the Polish Turf with Our Own TeamInterview with documentary filmmakers Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák about their latest joint film project Once Upon a Time in Poland that shows how religion and faith are misused in contemporary Poland for mass manipulation and political purposes. The film‘s Czech premiere was held as part of the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival 2020.Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionDok.revue 1.21This issue is dedicated to the doyen of Czech documentary filmmaking Karel VachekKamila Boháčková