Zdenek Sverak, who is 68, would make many people's list of greatest living Czechs. An actor, co-creator of the much-loved Jara Cimrman theatre and writer of some of the country's most popular comic films, he is also a writer of children's songs, a great champion of the Czech language and a former Czech Radio broadcaster. His greatest international success was the 1996 Oscar-winning film Kolya, which he wrote and starred in. Zdenek Sverak is now the subject of a documentary called Tatinek (Dad) by his son Jan, the director of Kolya. He says that in Tatinek he got closer to the essence of his father than another filmmaker might have.
"Somehow because the film was done within a family he was not afraid to enter the questions and subjects, he wouldn't open to anyone else. Because he had the trust that if would be too tabloid I wouldn't allow it to end up in the movie. He let us really go very close to his skin."
Given that Sverak senior has put a lot of his personal experiences into his work, was there anything Jan discovered about his father during the making of the Tatinek?
"I learned a lot. Mainly that he was not always like that, that he went through some process of development, that he was not always so peaceful and so balanced as a person. For me it was a surprise that he started quite late; he was about 35 and he still didn't know what he would do. At 35 I had my Oscar already, and I was definitely sure what I'm doing, I was almost at the end of my career (laughs). So these things were interesting."
That Oscar was of course for Kolya. The two men have made two other films together, 1991's Obecna Skola (Elementary School) and Tmavomodry Svet (Dark Blue World), which was released a decade later. Of all three movies, does Jan have a personal favourite?
"Probably my favourite film was Elementary School. Because it was our first collaboration, because it's his childhood. He is playing the role of my grandfather, his father. So it's really a family film. It was my first feature and I was terrified how it will end up. And it was the first time my father said that I succeeded, he liked it, and for a son to be appreciated by his father is a big moment."
Tatinek is available on DVD with English subtitles.
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