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Sep 5, 2020 - Sep 30, 2020

Director Jiri Menzel Remembered By His Programs at Czech Center New York

Together with our colleagues who used to work at Czech Center New York, diplomats who were stationed in the city, our compatriots and friends, we are deeply saddened by the passing of legendary Czech director Jiri Menzel (Feb. 23, 1938 - Sep. 5, 2020).


Jiri Menzel, Oscar winner for Closely Watched Trains along with many international as well as Czech accolades, honored Czech Center New York with several visits since we opened our doors.

Olga Menzelova, Martin Dvorak, Pavla Niklova, Jiri Menzel

Here are some memories and photos from those who had the pleasure of working with him on our programming and meeting him here:

Irena Kovarova, Czech Center New York Deputy Director 1999-2003, Acting Director 2003-2004

“Time passes by quickly and I don’t have the documents to back up my memories, but I think we’re in the year 1999, I’m a relative newbie as a New York resident and a freshly appointed Deputy Director of the Czech Center New York. In that position I had the fortune to meet some of the greats, filmmakers of the Czechoslovak New Wave. Now with the passing of Jiri Menzel, what remains are just the memories as almost all of the filmmakers who belonged to the movement have already gone into the great beyond. It was my first time meeting Jiri Menzel — the Czech Center co-presented his retrospective with the Anthology Film Archives — Petr Polednak, the then Director of the Center had organized it. The director of the world famous Closely Watched Trains was then a bit down on his luck. He just left his teaching job at his alma mater, FAMU, and was in dispute over a film he really wanted to direct. He didn’t come to NYC with high expectations, I think, and so when we drove down Second Avenue and saw the line of people trying to see the opening night film of his program wrapping around the entire block, that was simply heart-stopping, and Menzel was visibly pleased. There truly is nothing more pleasurable for me to see than an artist meeting with an appreciative audience.  

Fast forward 7 years later, Menzel made the film he thought he'd lost forever back when I met him for the first time. It was Hrabal’s I Served The King of England and we presented it at BAM as part of the annual New Czech Films series I curated for the Czech Center and BAM at that time. Menzel was a happy man then, he came together with his wife and was very happy with the reception of the new addition to his Hrabal adaptations. He indulged the spirited exchanges with the well-informed audience and we were again left with memories of a charming gentleman.

During the pandemic, we presented with the Czech Center an online screening of my favorite Menzel film, The Snowdrop Festival. I choose to remember him as the director of such whimsical comedies. And also as an actor in films of his Czechoslovak New Wave colleagues — Vera Chytilova’s The Apple Game and Juraj Herz’s Ferrat Vampire. One could glimpse his personality through his acting, seeing a man so in control of his art, be it in front or behind the camera. There’s nothing left to say but: Goodbye, Mr. Menzel. You won’t be forgotten.”


Chris Harwood, Jiri Menzel, Pavla Niklova

Pavla Niklova, Director, Czech Center New York 2010-2014

“I met Jiri Menzel at the screening of his last film The Don Juans during the Czech That Film festival in New York. The cinema of the Bohemian National Hall seats 75 people, and we had to run three screenings because the demand was so high! Mr. Menzel continues to have and had a loyal fanbase as well as friends all around the world, and they would not miss any screenings of his films. He started the post-screening Q&A by taking away my list of prepared questions, and what followed was a pleasant conversation and great entertainment for the audience and myself alike. Jiri Menzel’s films are timeless and they remain an important part of European cinema. It is my great pleasure to have met him in person.”


Jiri Menzel, Martin Dvorak, Pavla Niklova

Martin Dvorak, Consul General of the Czech Republic in New Yorku 2012-2017

“Since this morning [Sep. 6], I have been faced with sad news in Czech and international media. Jiri Menzel has shot his last shot and left us with the beauty and joy embodied in his filmography, but also with the pain of his passing. 

I remember clearly, like a movie in my head, how in 2013 his wife Olga and I had begun to conspire on celebrating his 75th birthday in New York with an exhibition commemorating his life’s work and successes. And we pulled it off wonderfully! She took him to New York in April and arranged a surprise meeting with Woody Allen and Milos Forman. While they were here we got together and figured out the exhibition as well as the first foreign screening of his new and, as it turns out, sadly last film, The Don Juans, which was not even finished then. In September we met again and it was a spectacular event at the Bohemian National Hall, thanks to another great collaboration with Czech Center NY and BBLA. Jiri Menzel was, I think, elated to have this among the presents that his wife Olga had prepared for his 75th birthday. For me, it was a great delight to have spent several hours talking to this amazing person and excellent artist about all sorts of things. To this day his memory brings up the image in my head of his kind eyes that still retained something from his boyhood, I can still see his unforgettable, slightly shy smile, and I am reminded of his great gift of self-deprecation, which is quite rare to see in people as accomplished as he was.

Mr. Director, you will be lovingly remembered!”


“His work had a sincerity, a subtlety”: Great Czech director Jiří Menzel dies at 82
Read full article on Radio Prague International HERE


Photo credit: Helena Plavec, CCNY Archive and Kristyna Milde





From: Sep 5, 2020
To: Sep 30, 2020


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