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Apr 22, 2020


To honor the memory of Milena Jelinek, Czech-born screenwriter and teacher, Czech Center New York is publishing the video of our last Czech Center event with this major figure of Czech cinema, featuring the Q&A with Milena Jelinek which followed the 2017 screening of Forgotten Light (Zapomenuté světlo), conducted and edited by Marie Dvorakova.

The New York-based Czech-born screenwriter and teacher, Milena Jelinek, who sadly passed away on April 15 at the age of 84, was perhaps best known for having written the screenplay for the acclaimed 1996 film Zapomenuté světlo (Forgotten Light). She taught screenwriting at Columbia University (The School of the Arts) in New York for many years, and was a major figure and supporter of Czech culture in New York.

Milena Jelinek studied at the Film and Television Academy (FAMU) in Prague between the years 1955 and 1959, and immigrated to USA in 1961. She made a series of short films in the late sixties and seventies which were screened at the Whitney Museum, the Kennedy Center and the Festival of Women’s Films. The film Forgotten Light, for which she wrote the screenplay, received three Czech Lion Awards in 1997. From the beginning of the eighties, she taught at Columbia University, The School of the Arts. In addition, she had taught at SUNY Purchase, FAMU (Prague), USC Los Angeles, and New York University.

To honor her memory and pay tribute to her person and filmmaking craftsmanship, Czech Center New York is making available to viewers for the very first time the video of our last event with Milena Jelinek, featuring the Q&A which followed the 2017 screening of the film Forgotten Light at the Czech center cinema, hosted by Marie Dvorakova.

You can watch the recording HERE.

What follows is Marie Dvořáková's own words in memory of Milena Jelinek:

Milena Jelinek was the one constant in my life in the US. She was my lodestar in the ever-changing landscape of the city of New York. She represented a Czech home that was geographically far away and that I missed greatly. And I thought that was how it would always be, because Milena would be here forever.

Her wisdom touched and influenced the work of hundreds of filmmakers who were lucky enough to meet her in America or the Czech Republic. She was kind and gracious. She had a fantastic sense of humor and was always able to assess the state of the world with sharpness and sense of perspective. At the same time, she was probably the only person around me who didn't know how to age. She remained youthful, and in fact often seemed younger than many of my peers.

I respected her immensely and I loved her. 

- Marie Dvořáková



We invite guests and friends to read the moving words written in memory of Milena Jelinek by her good friend, Zuzana Justman, a documentary filmmaker, writer, and Holocaust survivor, on the BBLA website.

Radio Prague International has released a broadcast with Milena Jelinek from 2008, where she talks about her FAMU film school years and about becoming a lecturer at Columbia University. You can read and listen to it HERE.

We are also including the in memoriam recollection of Renáta Spisarová-Kotík and you can listen to a 2014 Vltava Czech Radio broadcast where Milena Jelinek reminisces on her childhood and adolescent experiences HERE

In memoriam recollection of Milena's friend Renáta Spisarová-Kotík

Milena Jelinek

„Always, even in my own narrative, it‘s been about how to live and resist the vile regime that I refused to go along with, and with me a few wild men who went on to become dissidents, or émigrés, while I became a mother.“ So Milena once wrote to me. Our friendship lasted six years, and although we were separated by more than thirty years of life, it was somehow ageless, absolute. A friendship that seemed to have started so long ago that one could no longer remember which school bench one had first shared.   

Milena had an air of youthfulness about her, physically as well as mentally. „Too smart a woman,“ was how the composer Rudolf Komorous, a member of the artistic group Šmidrs, referred to her in the 1950s. A few days ago, when I called him in Vancouver to share the news that Milena had died, I heard a deep sigh on the other end of the telephone, as if a long-familiar world had come, once and for all, to a defintive end. And then we reminisced about Milena’s glossographical talent: her humor, her readiness, her resoluteness, a certain sharpness, and a healthy cynicism when things were veering toward some awkward sentimentality. She could be very open, if one had earned it, but was always fair and ready to help, unconditionally. She was simply... I think I know how Milena would have said it: a good person. And she would have laughed! That laughter of hers could be very contagious. 

We first met in 2014, while recording a five-part program for Czech Radio Vltava called „Osudy“ (still available for listening on the Vltava radio website). From that moment on, we would invite each other over for dinner (Milena’s apartment was beautiful), meet at coffee shops for a good bit of conversation, attend events at the Bohemian National Hall, whether films, lectures or even concerts. For the most part we were joined by Marie Dvořáková, who actually brought us a lot closer together. I remember a lovely Easter walk we shared in Central Park.... From time to time we simply needed to be together, or at least I needed to be with her, able to absorb Milena’s radical fearlessness and her big picture view, and to engage in often rousing debates. In 2018 Milena even came to visit the opera festival that my husband and I had organized in Ostrava. (For a time she was interested in opera from the perspective of a librettist.) Exactly one year ago, a group of „Czech women“ gathered at Milena’s and there was dill sauce, dumplings boiled in cups and a roast, and along with the wine, much discussion about films and politics.  

The last time we saw each other was on February 20 of this year in the Bohemian Spirit restaurant, on the ground floor of the Bohemian National Hall. We each had a small Pilsner and pâté, and Milena was telling me about her students (she was teaching another semester at Columbia University). We discussed the prospects for her latest screenplay and her future plans for writing her memoirs. Then we went up to the third floor together to hear a lecture. We parted at the corner of 72nd street and Second Avenue. She rushed off to catch a bus, I to catch a subway. We gave each other a quick hug and looked forward to next time. After that we only spoke by phone. Events moved quickly. I’ll never know if that broth I was planning to bring over to strengthen her was to have been made of chicken or beef. But what I do know for sure is that if she had seen me sitting here so sad, writing these lines, she would have given me a hug, and perhaps repeated what she still wrote to me not that long ago: „You live, life tosses you around, it’s beautiful and diverse. And you see, it just keeps going round and round.“

Renáta Spisarová-Kotík, Brooklyn, 20. 4. 2020
(Translation: Veronique Firkusny)



The New York Times: Milena Jelinek, Screenwriter and Educator, Dies at 84

She was thrown out of her film school in Prague for a movie called “An Easy Life.” After landing in New York, she became a tough-love screenwriting professor at Columbia University.

Read the full article HERE


Columbia University - School Of the Arts: In Memoriam: Milena Jelinek

Last week we lost our dear friend and colleague, Milena Jelinek, a brilliant and beloved screenwriting professor at Columbia University's School of the Arts Film Program. Milena died at Mount Sinai Morningside Hospital, on Wednesday, April 15 following complications from Covid-19. Milena was 84 years old.

Read the full article HERE


Photo Credit: Ian Willoughby



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Apr 22, 2020


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