Czech Film Archive begins unboxing treasures from director Ivan Passer’s estate

Ivan Passer, photo: Tomáš Vodňanský / Czech Radio

The National Film Archive announced this week that it has acquired the estate of Ivan Passer, one of the leading lights of cinema’s Czechoslovak New Wave. The archive received boxes stuffed with Passer’s diaries, letters and photographs, alongside annotated film screenplays – and recipes for Czech delicacies such as svíčková.

Ivan Passer lived the latter half of his life in the United States, where he died last January at the age of 86. In his homeland, he is best known for the enchanting film Intimate Lighting, and internationally for the cult classic Cutter’s Way.

He also collaborated with his friend Miloš Forman on all of his Czech films from the sixties, including Loves of a Blonde and The Firemen’s Ball, both of which Passer co-wrote and which were nominated for Academy Awards.

Michal Bregant, director of the National Film Archive, said in all they have received thirty-four boxes from Ivan Passer’s estate, carefully assembled and shipped from Los Angeles with the kind assistance of the Czech embassy in Washington, D.C. and the ministries of culture and foreign affairs.

'Intimate Lighting'

“It’s a real blessing that the documentation came just as he left it. It’s an authentic collection of every screenplay, his daily work diaries, various notes, and personal documents. It’s like the life of Ivan Passer in the United States has been preserved in a time capsule, from when he went into exile in 1969, right up until his death.”

Mr Bregant says that Ivan Passer was a passionate golfer, card player and gambler who liked to frequent casinos – this was no secret. When directing the 1976 comedic drama Ace Up My Sleeve, he lost quite a bit of money in late night card sessions with the leading man, Omar Sharif.

But the boxes from the Czech director’s estate have revealed a philosophical bent behind his “vices” or hobbies, and continue to yield other surprises.

“I knew that Ivan Passer was an avid golfer and fan of the sport, which was something he shared with Miloš Forman. But we were surprised to find a stack of let’s say motivational cards in one box, on which he had written various inspirational phrases and notes on which club to use for certain shots.

“I knew he visited casinos, but I was surprised by his passion for betting on matches, which we can see he really did quite scientifically, and had developed fictional theories on how to beat the house.”

Michal Bregant | Photo: Ian Willoughby,  Radio Prague International

“These are the very cards he carried in his pockets, on which he had the various slogans relating to golf, but which have a philosophical overlap. It seems to me that the sport of golf was a sort model of the world for him.”

As for film documentation, Mr Bregant says, he was surprised to find that most of the notes Ivan Passer took on screenplays, to be shot in Hollywood, in English, were in his mother tongue.

“I found it quite interesting that he was still linguistically grounded in Czech, even at such a late age. There were also are some touching passages in unexpected places, such as when he wrote recipes on the margins of scripts or in other documentation for films. There was a recipe for svíčková (beef sirloin with cream sauce) and other Czech dishes.”

The National Film Archive received the estate from Ivan Passer’s widow as a gift, under a few conditions with which Mr Bregant says they are most happy to comply. Chief among them is that digital copies of the most significant papers will be made available to the film museum in Hollywood.