November 1, 2008

Jan and Zdenek Sverak – A Tribute


Zdenek Sverak, Empties Jan and Zdenek Sverak will launch the season with their latest success, Czech box office hit Empties. This comic love story about a man facing old age is arguably their best film yet. It completes an informal trilogy and a personal history of the Czech experience as embodied in Zdenek Sverak’s scripts and central performances. The trilogy started with Oscar-nominated Elementary School, directly based on Zdenek Sverak’s childhood memories of the post-war period, and continued with Kolya, depicting the relationship between an unlikely father-son duo set in the 1980s.  Jan Sverak’s documentary Daddy portraying his father and revealing a painful creative crisis during their work on Empties will complement the screening. The name of Sverak resonates strongly not only on their home ground of the Czech Republic, but also internationally thanks mainly to their 1994 Oscar-winning success Kolya. While Jan Sverak is recognised as the most successful of the post 1990 generation of Czech Directors, his father Zdenek has been described as the best screenwriter in the Czech Republic. The season follows their careers showcasing their successful individual work, which has reached new heights since the beginning of their partnership in 1991.

Zdenek Sverak, Kolja

JAN SVERAK began his career by winning a student Oscar for his short mockumentary about a new animal species, The Oil Gobblers.  His films range from the low budget road movie The Ride, a homage to Easy Rider, to the big budget WWII love story Dark Blue World, loosely based on the real-life experience of Czech fighter pilots who survived the conflict only to be persecuted when they returned home by the post-war Communist regime. Shown side by side in the same evening they illustrate why Jan Sverak is internationally recognised as one of the best directors. The precision and timing of his work is clearly apparent.

ZDENEK SVERAK, who made his film debut in the late 1960s, despite writing scripts for 16 films, is best known in his own country as one of the leading figures in the Jara Cimrman theatre, which has been entertaining Czech audiences with its comic, absurd, and mystifying productions for nearly 40 years.  Jiri Menzel’s films, Oscar-nominated My Sweet Little Village and The Life and Adventures of Private Ivan Chonkin, both prove Sverak’s abilities as scriptwriter and demonstrate why Jiri Menzel (of Oscar-winning Closely Observed Trains) regrets the loss of his scriptwriter to Sverak Junior. While the first film finds humour in an abundance of everyday situations centered around a Laurel and Hardy-like couple, the second one depicts the absurdity of Soviet bureaucracy via comic encounters with its representatives in a faithful adaptation of the classic comic novel by Vladimir Voinovich. It was with this film that the name of Sverak became associated with UK–based producer Eric Abraham who co-produced four of Sveraks’ movies.

Jan and Zdenek Sverak - Father and Son

The Sveraks’ films represent those qualities for which Czech cinema is best known – its human insight, observation, and use of comic irony.  This short tribute will include discussions with Jan and Zdenek Sverak about their best-known films and, following the screening of Dark Blue World, a discussion with producer Eric Abraham.


Jan and Zdenek Sverak – A Tribute
7 - 9 November 2008
Riverside Studios, London W6

The season is organised by the Czech Centre London in collaboration with Biograf Jan Sverak and Portobello Pictures.


Czech Centre London
13 Harley Street
London W1G 9QG

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