Thor was Always Present in what He was Doing

Czech filmmaker Petr Horký reminisces about his close friend Thor Heyerdahl

Thor Heyerdahl

Czech filmmaker Petr Horký (Old Man and the World) met Norwegian adventurer, anthropologist and filmmaker Thor Hyerdahl 18 years ago. They arranged their meeting via a prehistoric piece of equipment, the fax machine. Heyerdahl was a great role model and a close friend to Horký, even after his death, he is still in contact with Thor's wife, former Miss France, Jacqueline Heyerdahl. In 2001, Horký and Heyerdahl shot several episodes for the TV series Unknown Country (Neznámá země).

When and how did you first meet Thor Heyerdahl?
In 1997, together with my colleagues Miroslav Náplava and Pavel Pavel we simply decided that we wanted to meet with Hyerdhal and so we messaged him via fax. Three days later we received an answer in which he agreed to the meeting and gave us the choice of three dates for the meetings in different locations around the word. That’s when I realized what it meant to be a citizen of the world. He suggested a meeting at Tenerife with the same confidence as a person sets a meeting up at Vaclav Square in Prague, or under the clock in Brno. When I went to him for the first shooting, I felt like I was personally going to meet Captain Nemo. I still feel the first handshake.  Meeting him was proof that the communist regime and Iron Curtain are gone for good and truly a new era is beginning.

On what did you collaborate with Heyerdahl?
At the time, Thor used his reputation and backed my very first documentary work, the series Unkown Country (2001) of about 21 episodes which deals with how the world changes in such a short time, during a lifetime of one person. And conversely, whether one person can change the world. Gradually we filmed in thirty-two countries, with people such as New Zealand mountaineer Edmund Hillary, the Italian-German explorer Reinhold Messner or the Russian hockey player Viktor Tikchonov. It was a huge education - both cinematically and people-wise. I consider the opportunity to meet so many exceptional personalities at such an early age, I was only 24 years old, as a great gift of fate. Later on, it was turned into a book and Czech Television, for which it was made, is broadcasting reruns of the series.

It is said that Heyerdahl was not a filmmaker, but an adventurer who happened to be filming. How did he approach his documentary work?
I must say that I did not know Thor as a director, documentary filmmaker. I feel that he considered documentaries to be part of his work, but neither did he himself see himself as solely a documentary filmmaker.  I think he even perceived the Oscar he won for his film about the expedition Kon-Tiki, as an appreciation of the expedition, that it celebrated his anthropological work more than a filmmaking trophy. His vision always cantered around the expedition, project, theory- the film was a natural part of the complexity of his work.

Perhaps, that is why his documentaries are completely different compared to let’s say Czech documentary film work.
On the subject of the Czech filmmaker’s approach, foreigners often repeated that our directors do not like to listen to the opinions of others, they do not like changing anything and they are convinced that their view is the best and only one possible. This self-centeredness then takes away the potential power of Czech films. Thor used to say that fame is endless. There is no reason to be jealous of anyone, to hide your achievements of your work from anyone, or conceal your knowledge and skills. In the end it all mostly comes down to what is in us, what our ideas are and what is our ability to realize them. If one likes one anthropologist, it doesn’t mean that he has no room left in his heart for a second one. The secrets behind a great and quality creation lie in collaborations, openness and sharing.

Petr Horký at 19th Jihlava IDFF

What does Heyerdahl’s work mean to you?
His work says that there is an endless amount of topics and a bottomless well of inspiration. I like the old documentary Kon-Tiki, partly because I held the original ship diary and Oscar trophy in my hands and partly thanks to a number of debates with Heyerdahl. But the main thing is that it serves as a confirmation of what I believe and hope- no person should start films and, in fact, no creation with thoughts of what the market wants and "what would be saleable to the masses", but rather every good work should start with the creator thinking about what it encompasses, for what his heart yearns. Even then something complex at first glance and dealing with a non-commercial theme may become an issue to large crowds and audiences. When we started shooting Old Man and the World, my colleagues had predicted a maximum of five thousand viewers. Finally, ten times the amount found their way into the cinema. To me that is a miracle that I never dreamed of. It is also proof that it can work.

Did Thor Heyerdahl ever tell stories from his travels?
One story, to serve as an example for the rest- when they had crossed the Atlantic for the second time on the boat Ra II, built from papyrus, local politicians from Barbados were officially waiting for them with the Knights of Malta and a crowd had gathered. Tanned and bearded sailors dressed in shorts got off this reed boat. After a long time without any contact with solid ground, they suddenly were unable to stand or walk straight, and they had to weave their way just like medieval sailors, as if the earth was moving beneath their feet, as if they were drunk! They received a pin to mark the occasion and there was nowhere to pin it, so in order to avoid piercing skin, they each got a pin put in the palm of their hand. Heyerdhal, as the head of the expedition quickly borrowed the overcoat of a Knight of Malta and had the medal pinned to a borrowed cloak.

What do you always think of when you hear his name?
Not to show off, to stay open-minded to the views and ideas of others. Thor taught me the importance of the seemingly contradictory duality - the most valuable thing I have, is my outlook on the world shaped by my experience, knowledge, intelligence, wit and wisdom. I cannot find the valuable only outside, I would only be copying and complicating things. Contrariwise, it is important to try to be open-minded, admit your own mistakes, not to succumb to the illusion that it is solely me trying to create something that does not exist. Rather to see myself as a discoverer, who hast the gift to see things that may also be interesting to others in an already existing world. Whether in the form of a book or film. I find it's like in science – the scientist is not attempting to invent natural laws and regulations. But he has the gift, skills and knowledge to discover and describe, communicate them to others and thus help everyone create their own world and find their role in it.

Did you go on an unusual journey together?
Thor approached us to be his documentary crew and go to film excavations at Rostov on Don.  But then another attack of cancer came and before we set off on a journey, he was dead. I still have the message which he wrote saying when we’d meet, where and where the spot was and not to forget to take pictures. I have been thinking about Thor Heyerdahl a lot especially lately when we are shooting a series about the work of Czech archaeologists around the world for Czech Television.

Translated by Floriana Skorulská

more articles from a section:  Interview

1.21Going 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 Boháčková
1.21The 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 Kočárník
1.20None of the big streaming platforms are buying documentaries now because people are so scared in their personal lives Challenges for the film industry and festivals in the age of the coronavirusRadim Procházka
1.20We have to start with ourselves, or nothing will changeAn interview with Macedonian documentarians Ljubomir Stefanov and Tamara Kotevská, creators of the film Honeyland.Vojtěch Kočárník
2.20Karel Vachek: Films Just Have to Make You Laugh!A doyen of Czech documentary filmmaking Karel Vachek unfortunately passed away on the 21th of December 2020. We publish here the interview he made in 2019 just after releasing his last film, the ninth film novel called Communism and the Net or the End of Representative Democracy. Fifty years after Prague Spring and thirty years after the Velvet Revolution, Karel Vachek “with his inner laughter” looks back on the evolution of our society and predicts a transformation to direct democracy based on the possibilities of the internet that will allow for the engagement of the whole mankind without the need of representatives. Kamila Boháčková
1+2.19To Surprise MyselfWhile the main competition at the International Karlovy Vary Film Festival does not feature any Czech title, the festival’s documentary section has one Czech film to offer: A documentary road movie by Martin Mareček entitled Over the Hills exploring the relationship between a father and a son, as well as the distance that separates us from others. Unlike his previous socially engaged films, the latest title provides a personal and intimate insight. But as Martin Mareček put it in his interview for dok.revue – what is intimate is universal. Marek Hovorka, Petr Kubica, Kamila Boháčková
1+2.19Greta Stoklassa: I Read Rather than Preach the RealityAn interview with the director Greta StoklassaKamila Boháčková
F2.18Special little momentsInterview with Antonio Di Biase, the director of De Sancto Ambrosio movie, which has the world premiere in Opus Bonum competition at 22nd Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival.Matěj Pořízek
F2.18Are we experiencing dystopia today?Interview with Frédérick Cousseau, the director of the poetic documentary called NU, which has the premiere in Opus Bonum competition at 22nd Ji.hlava IDFF.Tomáš Poštulka
F2.18Freedom of ChoiceInterview with Jacky Goldberg, the director of Flesh Memory, which will have its international premiere in Opus Bonum competition

starší články

31. 10. 2015

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 BenziThemeBehold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightenedIn 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).Olaf MöllerThemeEvery 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 LovejoySportPandemic as an opportunityJi.hlava's Emerging Producers discuss the opportunity that can emerge from crisisSteve RickinsonInterviewThe 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