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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)

New Hyperion or Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood - sample - Song about Havel

Year of production 1992
Written by Karel Vachek
Screenplay Karel Vachek
Director Karel Vachek
Dir. of photography Ivan Vojnár, Karel Slach
Editing Renáta Pařezová
Sound Libor Sedláček
Prod. manager Václav Hájek
Production KF A.S., STUDIO 52
Premiere 6.4.1992
chairman of the Czechoslovak Communist Party Ladislav Adamec, chairman of the Czechoslovak People’s Party Josef Bartončík, singer Iveta Bartošová, politician Rudolf Battěk, activist John Bok, philosopher Egon Bondy, former German chancellor Willy Brandt, chairman of the Federal Government Marián Čalfa, politicians Ján Čarnogurský, Jiří Dienstbier, Minister of Industry Vladimír Dlouhý, actor, director and politician Pavel Dostál, chairman of Parliament Alexander Dubček, Soviet president Michail Gorbačov, singer Karel Gott, Czechoslovak president Václav Havel, actress Vlasta Chramostová, Pope Jan Pavel II., poet Ivan M. Jirous, politician Jan Kavan, Minister of Finance Václav Klaus, actor and politician Milan Kňažko, singer Michael Kocáb, actress Daniela Kolářová, economist Valtr Komárek, musician Rafael Kubelík, screenwriter and author Jiří Křižan, politician Jaroslav Lis, cameraman Stanislav Milota, communist politician Vasil Mohorita, singer Pepa Nos, politicians Petr Pithart, Jan Ruml, Pavel Rychetský, Richard Sacher, Miroslav Sládek, Slavomír Stračár, Ivan Sviták, Jaroslav Šabata, Petr Uhl, Jiří Vyvadil, Miloš Zeman, Michael Žantovský and a number of of lesser-known figures and “men on the street.”
Following his promising debut in the 1960s with the documentaries Moravian Hellas (1963) and Elective Affinities (1968), director Karel Vachek spent the majority of the 1970s and 1980s as a political persona non grata, at times working various blue-collar jobs and at times in emigration, without completing a single film project. He was rehabilitated only following the events of 1989, which permitted him to return to Prague’s Krátký Film studio. The societal events surrounding Vachek’s return to filmmaking in 1990 have much in common with those over twenty years earlier, in 1968, that allowed him to make Elective Affinities. In 1990, Czech and Slovak society was facing its first democratic parliamentary elections since 1945. Vachek thus began to shoot the provisionally-titled “Elective Affinities II,” expanding upon and developing his existing filmic techniques. With this new film, as was the case with Elective Affinities, Vachek called the temporal boundaries of his work “thoroughly banal”—the film spans the period from the parliamentary elections of May 1990, through Pope Jan Paul II’s visit to Czechoslovakia, the campaigns, and election day, to the moment when the newly-established parliament voted Václav Havel president of the Republic (a clear reference to Elective Affinities). We follow state representatives, politicians, dissidents, artists, philosophers and various activists who moved within public circles in this period OF heightened political activity, and we are witnesses to the way in which new social positions begin to be formed. From the behavior, discourse, and appearance of individual actors, Vachek composes, in the form of a mosaic, a broad and many-layered film-argument about Czechoslovak democracy in the period of its rebirth, all administered with the director’s ini­mitable point of view. In this unique historical moment, as part of the “pre-election comedy,” everyday citizens “play noblemen,” becoming actors in a universal “carnival” that culminates in a symbolic closing scene depicting crowds marching towards Prague Castle to the accompaniment of a chorus from Bedřich Smetana’s opera Brandenburgers in Bohemia. In the collage-panorama of Prague with the Charles Bridge that closes the film, however, we also see New York’s Statue of Liberty, the Parisian Bastille, and St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow…. New Hyperion works from several fundamental scenes and motifs that, divided into multiple parts, enter and exit according to context and create, through the course of the film, an expansive dialogue. Within this complex braid of numerous lines of thought, sound and image function as relatively independent elements, to the point at which the authentic spoken word is frequently conferred with meaning that exceeds that of the image, thus fulfilling a function that might be termed illustrative or contrapuntal. The connections between individual episodes and events also operate primarily on the basis of the spoken word and elements of words. With this elevation of the word (through which Vachek creates a unique form of meaning-collage), among other things, Vachek’s films demonstrate their kinship to literature. And indeed, Vachek titled his film after Freidrich Hölderlin’s (1770 – 1843) novel Hyperion or, the Hermit in Greece (1799). New Hyperion or Liberty, Equality, Brotherhood had its premiere on the 6th of April, 1992, shortly before a second set of parliamentary elections that ultimately led