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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)

Bohemia docta - trailer

Bohemia Docta or The Labyrinth of the World and the Lust-house of the Heart (A Divine Comedy)

Year of production 2000
Written by Karel Vachek
Screenplay Karel Vachek
Director Karel Vachek
Dir. of photography Karel Slach
Editing Renáta Pařezová
Sound Libor Sedláček
Music various compositions and songs
Prod. manager Jan Šibrava
Production Krátký film Praha, a.s., Česká televize
Premiere 16.12.2000


activist John Bok, philosopher Egon Bondy, musician Vratislav Brabenec, inventor of Semtex Stanislav Brebera, poet Eugen Brikcius, písnickár / balladeer Jim Cert, ecologist Ivan Dejmal, poet Ivan Diviš, representative to Parliament Pavel Dosál, writer Jaroslav Foglar, Minister of Education Jirí Gruša, musical composer Václav Hálek, president Václav Havel, actress Dagmar Havlová, musician Milan Hlavsa, poet Ivan Martin Jirous, Prime Minister Václav Klaus, musical composer Jan Klusák, artist Milan Knížák, artist Vladimír Kokolia, poet and artist Jirí Kolár, poet Petr Král, writer Jirí Kratochvil, director Jirí Krejcík, writer Eda Kriseová, poet J. H. Krchovský, novinár / journalist Ivan Medek, politician Dana Nemcová, balladeer Pepa Nos, philosopher Radim Palouš, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs Martin Palouš, inventor of the Tamara radar Vlastimil Pech, anarchist Jakub Polák, journalist Lída Rakušanová, philosopher Petr Rezek, photographer Jan Saudek, illustrator Karel Saudek, Rabbi Karol Sidon, poet Andrej Stankovic, musician Jirí Stivín, theologist Odillo Štampach, mystics Eduard Tomáš, Emilie Tomášová, politicians Václav Trojan, Petr Uhl, violinist Tomáš Vejvoda, microbiologist Miroslav Vosátka, theologist Fridolín Zahradník, predseda chairman of the Academy of Science of the Czech Republic Rudolf Zahradník, politician Miloš Zeman a and others


In this film, Vachek works partially from concepts in his unrealized screenplay of the 1970s (bringing them into the present), and also adopts the first part of his title from historian Bohuslav Balbín’s (1621–1688) overview of figures in Czech culture. The other parts of the title refer to Komenský (Comenius) and Dante. In the film, at irregular intervals, shots of Bohemian and Moravian castles appear, accompanied by various types of mushrooms. While mushrooms form a stand-alone motif in the film—one that is visible in, for instance, sculptor Milan Knížák’s scul­ptures, “mushroom- collecting” figures, a “singing mushroom,” etc.—this apparently entirely Dadaist gesture foreshadows the second part of the film, in which the voiceover announces “castle Klíma” or “castle Hašek” (the latter over the grave of Jaroslav Hašek, on which a mushroom has been placed in the manner of a flower). This is a metaphor for the “landscape of Czech culture,” from which personalities protrude, castle-like, and which, in Vachek’s work, extends to blend with the real landscape, its forests interwoven with mycelium. “The forest of Czech culture,” in return, connects to, “nurtures,” and influences the hidden grains of the mycelium. With slight exaggeration, we can say that through these grains, Vachek moves “from mushroom to mushroom” and “from castle to castle,” a metaphor that also encapsulates the director’s method of cinematic composition and he film’s dramatur­gical structure, in which, mutually and from various angles, individual motifs and concepts influence each other. Vachek demonstrates this approach within his film and also beyond it, for in various places the work openly connects to other films—to Jiří Krejčík’s Gra­duation in November (2000) (about which the two directors speak in Bohemia Docta); Vít Janeček’s Fungus (2000), which deals with the idea OF the rhizome and whose central figure is microbiologist Miroslav Vosátka; and Janeček, Roman Vávra and Miroslav Janek’s film Battle for Life (2000), whose principal actors are the residents of Bystry, and in which the “battle” for Janov that appears in Vachek’s film was shot (the film crew can even be glimpsed briefly in this scene). The connections Vachek draws between personalities and “worlds” go the furthest with the concept OF “resurrection,” a game into which he attempts to integrate even long-sincedeparted “learned Czechs”—aside from Hašek and Klíma, for instance, poet Karel Hynek Mácha. Poet Ivan Diviš, shortly before his own death, rails against the concept of resurrecting and meeting with the living-dead Mácha; in a clever way, Vachek (symbolically) returns to this polemic through his film: although Diviš and Foglar died during its production, through the film, they can always “rise again”—not only in the individual act of a screening, but also in progression of the film’s events (for passages in which the men are already “dead” are intercut with their “living” appearance without regard for natural chronology).