One of the greatest legends of Czech cinema, director of photography Miroslav Ondříček, turned 75 on Wednesday. Twice an Academy Award nominee, he made over 40 movies in the course of a career that began in the 1950s. His most successful works include the award winning 1984 film Amadeus, many successful English and American movies as well as films of the Czech New Wave of the 1960s.
Miroslav Ondříček, one of the most successful Czech film makers of all times, has turned 75. Looking back on a career of nearly six decades he explains what it took to get to top, and stay there.
“It’s patience. It’s patience, luck and eternal desire. I always wanted to be a film-maker, and I became one. But that was almost 60 years ago. I did all kinds of things, and I got noticed. That’s what happens when you work hard. I really enjoyed working with the camera, I liked creating images. Just imagine that you tell one story for six months, or even a year, and it has to look like it’s one story. I really wanted to do that.”
Unlike many other Czech filmmakers of the 1960s, Miroslav Ondříček never went to film school. A native of Prague, he started working in a film lab before moving to his first film set. In 1965, he made his first movie as the director of photography, and teamed up with director Miloš Forman a partnership that was to last for three decades. Miroslav Ondříček worked in Czechoslovakia, Western Europe and in the United States in the 1970s and 80s but one of his favourite films is the 1967 movie Hoří má panenko, known in English as The Firemen’s Ball, by his friend and frequent co-worker Miloš Forman.
“The movie I like most to remember is Hoří, má panenko. We shot that film in Vrchlabí, that was really great. It felt as if we had been born there. Working with Miloš Forman was great all the time. But I’ve worked with other directors, too – Michael Nichols, Penny Marshall, Robert Mandel, and I can’t remember all those names any more.”
Valued greatly for his realistic and straightforward camera style, Miroslav Ondříček collaborated with some of the big names in the industry, such as Lindsay Anderson, George Roy Hill, Penny Marshal and others. In 1981 and again in 1984, he was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Achievement in Cinematography for his films Amadeus and Ragtime.
In 2006, President Václav Klaus awarded Miroslav Ondříček the Czech Republic’s Medal of Merit. To this day, he still teaches at the Prague film academy FAMU and at a film school in the town of Písek that bears his name. His son David follows in his footsteps and has shot four films since his debut in 1996. Many critics say that contemporary Czech film has not reached the level of the Czech New Wave of the 1960s, but Miroslav Ondříček does not agree.
“I think it’s on the right track. It’s free, it’s under no control. Of course there are mistakes – sometimes I think that it’s too kind, but it’s free, it’s not guided, it’s like a river looking for its way. I am really happy that so many people want to make movies. This century, and this millennium, will be based on images. I’m not disappointed.”
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