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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)

Elective Affinities - sample - Ludvik Svoboda

Year of production 1968
Written by Karel Vachek
Screenplay Karel Vachek
Director Karel Vachek
Dir. of photography Jozef Ort-Šnep
Editing Jiřina Skalská
Sound Zbyněk Mader
Prod. manager Petr Brada, Stanislav Litera
Production Krátký Film Praha – Documentary Film
Premiere 8.11.1968

General Ludvík Svoboda, Prime Minister Oldřich Černík, General Secretary of the Communist Party Alexander Dubček, Chairman of the National Assembly Josef Smrkovský, economist Ota Šik, men of letters Jan Procházka, Pavel Kohout, Jan Skácel, Karel Ptáčník, Milan Jariš, Jan Otčenášek, politicians Josef Špaček, Gustav Husák, Marie Švermová, Miroslav Galuška, Drahomír Kolder, Čestmír Císař, Ludvík Černý, Bohuslav Laštovička, Jozef Lenárt, Zdeněk Fierlinger, Marie Miková, Josef Borůvka, Josef Plojhar, Karel Poláček, Vasil Bil´ak, Jan Pillar, Julius Dolanský, Joří Hendrych, Martin Vaculík and scientists Radoslav Selucký, Karel Kosík and Eduard Goldstücker.


Between 1963 – 1968 Vachek attempted in vain to complete a feature film with Oldřich
Nový in the leading role – his great ambition. The helter-skelter events of 1968 (Prague Spring) forged a role for him instead of recording the events surrounding the election of the new President of Czechoslovakia. Equipped with the most modern HW of that time – a 16mm. camera Eclair linked by a synchronisation cable to a Nagra tape-recorder – he and his team entered the political spotlight to capture an unrepeatable event stripped to it's bones. At the point where others switched off their cameras Vachek often began to film. His film breathes authenticity, paradoxically produced in tandem with the crew and underlined by a masterful film composition based on an ironical confrontation of the high and low, dramatic and comic, official and personal. Dubček, Svoboda, Smrkovský and Černík monitored by Vachek's camera become run-of-the-mill, ridiculous, but alive and without any media mask cover.

The title ‚Elective Affinities‘, which cites Johann Wolfgang Goethe's novel, is, according to Vachek, a reference to the ‚political marriage‘ switches of the participants of those events in a tumultuous historical era.

Era showed itself even more melodramatic and for a while totally altered the ironic sense of the film. On 21 August 1968 Czechoslovakia was invaded by armies of the Warsaw Pact which had decided to forcibly crush the reform process. The film appearing in cinemas on 8 November 1968 is viewed nostalgically by people and it's participants became national martyrs…


1969 - Grand Prize from Karlovy Vary

1969 - Grand Prize from Oberhausen

1969 - "Trilobit" prize from FITES

1990 - Golden Berlin Camera