2016 – Jiri Menzel
Jiri Menzel (b. 1938), is an Oscar-winning Czech film director. A noted theatre director, actor, and screenwriter, Menzel combines his humanistic world view with sarcasm and provocation. He is the best known director of the Czechoslovak New Wave and has garnered worldwide acclaim for his bittersweet, philosophical comedies that owe much to the modern Czech literary tradition. Menzel grew up with a passion for theatre but failed to get admitted to the drama school due to a perceived lack of talent. Instead, he attended film school, where he was taught by the professor and director Otakar Vavra. Menzel started out as an assistant director and occasional actor for Vera Chytilova following his graduation from the Prague film school F.A.M.U.
Menzel was influenced by the novels of Czech novelist Bohumil Hrabal. He adapted Hrabal’s novel Larks on a String (1969) to make it into a movie. The two worked together for the film, which was banned by Czechoslovakia’s communist government but won the Golden Bear two decades later at the 1990 Berlin International Film Festival. During the Soviet Occupation, Menzel was prevented from making further films until 1974 due to his anti-Communist views. Cutting It Short (1980) is an exuberant brewery town love triangle depiction, while I Served The King Of England (2006), is a picaresque story about an ambitious but simple waiter in a deluxe Prague hotel. Among Menzel‘s popular films is Capricious Summer (1968), a periodic comedy film about an unfortunate summer in a small Czech village. He won the 1968 Best Foreign Language Oscar with his first movie, Closely Observed Trains, produced when he was just 28. Menzel made non-political, nostalgic comedies during 80’s that were slapsticks. He had international success in 1986 with the delightful My Sweet Little Village. In the late ’80s, Menzel again returned to political activism and continued to make films though the mid-’90s. He has directed 28 films, written 20 screenplays, and starred in 67 titles. In addition to winning the Oscar, Menzel has been the recipient of many medals and awards including the State Honor – Merit Medal from the late Czech President Vaclav Havel.