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Born in 1940. Studied direction at the Prague Film Academy (FAMU) under Elmar Klos. In 1963 he shot his thesis film, Moravian Hellas, in Strážnice, then-Czechoslovakia, about their traditional folk celebrations. The film’s unusual approach—blending humor and intellectual aggression—caused furor and indignation as well as admiration in official cultural and political circles. It took several years for it to be allowed to be screened publicly. As a director with the Krátký Film studio in Prague in 1968, Vachek shot the film Elective Affinities a legendary portrait of the protagonists of the Prague Spring during the presidential elections of that year. He had to leave Krátký Film with the onset of the post-1968 “normalization” process, working in manual trades until emigrating with his family in 1979 to the USA via France. Due to his wife’s bad health, he eventually returned. After 1989 he returned to Krátký Film and, over time, completed an extensive film tetralogy that portrays Czech society from the 1990s to the next century in his inimitable style.

Since 1994 he has taught at FAMU in the Documentary Film Department becoming its head in 2002. With his films and professional stance he has influenced many younger artists (e.g. Jan Gogola jr., Vít Janeček, Filip Remunda, Vít Klusák, Martin Mareček, Erika Hníková, Theodora Remundová). In 2004 he published a book, The Theory of Matter, which is an important conceptual milestone as regards his newest film, Záviš, the Prince of Pornofolk Under the Influence of Griffith’s Intolerance and Tati’s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday, or The Foundation and Doom of Czechoslovakia [1918 – 1992] . In 2008, the AMU publishing house released Karel Vachek, etc. by Martin Švoma.


Moravian Hellas (1963)
Elective Affinities (1968)
New Hyperion or Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood (1992)
What Is to Be Done? (A Journey from Prague to Český Krumlov, or How I Formed a New Government) (1996)
Bohemia Docta or The Labyrinth of the World and the Lust-house of the Heart (A Divine Comedy) (2000)
Who Will Watch the Watchman? Dalibor, or the Key to Uncle Tom's Cabin (2002)
Záviš, the Prince of Pornofolk Under the Influence of Griffith’s Intolerance and Tati’s Mr. Hulot’s Holiday or The Foundation and Doom of Czechoslovakia (1918–1992) (2006)
Obscurantist and His Lineage or The Pyramids' Tearful Valleys (2011)
Communism and the Net or The end of Representative Democracy (2019)

Moravian Hellas - trailer

Moravian Hellas

Year of production 1963
Written by Karel Vachek
Screenplay Karel Vachek
Director Karel Vachek
Dir. of photography Jozef Ort-Šnep
Editing Ludvík Pavlíček
Sound Benjamin Astrug, Lubomír Zajíc
Music Štěpán Koníček (Archive)
Prod. manager Emil Havlin
Production Krátký Film – Studio of Scientific and Educational Films
Josef Lebánek, Jan Saudek, Karel Saudek, Alena Karpilová and others

At the beginning of the 1960's the „problematic“ budding student of film direction at FAMU (Prague Film Academy) was temporarily expelled from the school as a result of disagreements with certain tutors, and spent a year as a manual worker in Gottwaldov (today's Zlín). At that time he began to prepare a graduation piece of work, an essayistic and experimental film from the nearby town of Strážnice. The Strážnice folklore festival, strongly
supported by the then cultural Party apparatus, lost any relationship to an authentic folklore tradition many years back. They are shown as a fascinating, bizarre theatre with surrealist elements which Vachek with his untraditional approaches amplifies (commentated captions, declamation of reporters, acted comical études, linking-up of reportage and fiction). In front of our eyes we see a riveting audio-visual collage where odd figures of folk artists parade up-and-down, hard-luck cases, schmaltz-artists and wide boys, hop-alongs and old-time locals confronted by a weird duo of ‚uni-ovular‘ investigative reporters, Karel and Jan Saudek (first is today a well-known comic-draftsman, second a well-known photographer, then an unknown couple of young lads) with one gorgeous bored extra, a novice actress Alena Karpilová.

The film was created in 1963, the year film theoretician Antonín Navrátil calls ‚the turnabout year‘ in Czech documentary film-making. It was this time that it began to worm itself out of the ideological torpor and rigidity of the previous decade. Although by this time there were official voices calling for truthfulness and personal moral commitment from the artists, Vachek hit a brick wall with no holds barred.. Following stormy discussions at the festival of documentary films in Karlovy Vary Carlsbad ) the film did not appear in cinemas for a long time. According to some testimonies the film was banned by President Novotný himself… The title of the film paraphrases ironically a supposed exclamation by the French sculptor August Rodin who, on his visit to the Slovácko region of Moravia, compared the local graceful women to the beauties of ancient Greece.

Karel Vachek on the film:
I did it in a way so I could shoot something where I could giggle and and be blissful saying to myself: yes, that's a shot that I want. Then I just took care that I had the others like that ... It seemed to me there that a shot, a miracle of sorts and I didn't rack my brain with some philosophical ventilations that I can develop today…Mind you, it took me twenty years before I managed with my wife to crack what I was actually aiming at in 'Moravian Hellas' and in 'Elective Affinities'. ... I felt for the first time that whatever framework I created, however magically, won't be as beautiful as when it flows directly from the reality, and now it causes you all those „horrors“.

1964 - Honorable Mention at the short film festival in Karlovy Vary