Both as an actor and as a screenwriter, his films have achieved cult status. He created the legendary Czech “hero” Jára Cimrman, hailed as "The Greatest Czech” in the nationwide television poll “Největší Čech”. He brought the Czechs their first Oscar in decades. At the 19th annual Art Film Fest, Zdeněk Svěrák will personally accept the Actor’s Mission Award and place a bronze plaque bearing his own name in Trenčianske Teplice’s Festival Park.
One of the most popular actors and talented screenwriters in the Czech Republic was born on March 28th, 1936 in Prague. Starting out as a Czech teacher and a radio editor, his first experience with the dramatic arts was as a cofounder of the now-infamous Jára Cimrman Theatre. In 1967, Svěrák and Ladislav Smoljak laid the theatre’s foundations, devising the greatest (imaginary) Czech hero of all time. Cimrman was a rousing success, selling out shows for over four decades now. “One of the Czech people’s characteristic traits is humour, and it’s how we deal with our complexes, our unhappiness, our powerlessness. It’s saved us many a time, and that’s a reason to appreciate it,“ surmises Svěrák.
His transition from theatre to film was a fluid one. From the seventies on, he has written concepts and screenplays for films that are now bona-fide cult classics, with and without Smoljak’s help. Together, they brought Cimrman to the silver screen in pictures such as “Jára Cimrman Lying, Sleeping”. On his own, Svěrák made his mark with hits like “Mareček, Pass Me the Pen!”, “Waiter, Scarper!” and “Those Wonderful Movie Cranks”. Together with Jiří Menzel, he earned the first Oscar nomination for a Czech film in nearly two decades with "My Sweet Little Village".
But the greatest awards would come after he formed the “Svěrák Duo" with his son Jan. Reminiscing on his own childhood and teaching career, Zdeněk wrote the screenplay for Jan’s first feature-length film, "The Elementary School", where he played the lead with relish. The picture was nominated for an Oscar as Best Foreign Film, but father and son didn’t win their own golden figurine until 1997’s “Kolya”, starring Zdeněk, finally won the Oscar. And that wasn’t the last of its world-class awards – it won a Golden Globe, too.
“It was pure joy, condensed into a single moment. I’ll bet that was how Emil Zátopek felt when he finished a marathon. I say this because the work we put into the film was something like a marathon itself,” said Svěrák after the Oscar ceremony. “Sure, this Oscar is certainly precious, but it’s a one-time thing, something most only get once in a lifetime. It makes me enormously happy, but the joy I get from Cimrman is even greater and longer-lasting,” he said in an interview.
The father-son duo has gone on to create even more acclaimed films, including "Dark Blue World" and "Empties".
This year, Zdeněk Svěrák was bestowed a Czech Lion for his extraordinary contribution to Czech cinema.