Director of children’s classic, Journey to the Beginning of Time, remembered

Karel Zeman

November 3 marks the anniversary of the birth of the great Czech animator Karel Zeman, who died in 1989. Mr Zeman, who directed numerous children’s classics, including The Fabulous World of Jules Verne or Journey to Prehistory. On the occasion of the anniversary, Czech Post has released a new stamp in the director’s memory; he has also been commemorated in his home town.

Czech Post has released a new stamp in the director’s memory, photo: CTK
For the town of Ostroměř, near Jičín in east Bohemia, November 3 marks a special anniversary: 100 years since the birth of one of its most famous sons: the great Czech animator/director Karel Zeman. Countless generations in Czechoslovakia grew up watching his films if not in the theatre than on TV, and few have forgotten the 1955 classic Cesta do pravěku (Journey to Prehistory or the Journey to the Beginning of Time) a highly-respected predecessor to Jurassic Park. Many Czechs still remember seeing the movie - with its stop-action animated dinosaurs and woolly prehistoric creatures - for the first time. Among them is the mayor of Ostroměř, Tomáš Gabriel, who I spoke with a little earlier:

Karel Zeman
“I am part of the generation that grew up with Karel Zeman’s films and they were very important for us, really beautiful children’s adventures, especially Journey to the Beginning of Time. If you look at today’s Jurassic Park, Journey was very similar in principle. I think for the period, when there was nothing like CGI, the animation was excellent.”

Mayor Tomáš Gabriel was one of those on hand to honour the memory of the Czech great. He told me more about how Tuesday’s event went:

Journey to Prehistory
“As a municipality we prepared for this anniversary since May and Czech Post was involved as well, launching a new stamp honouring Karel Zeman on the eve of the anniversary. We also opened a several day exhibit on the director’s life and work. Finally, during the event, three of four of Journey’s former child actors took part, so it was a real success. The former actors recalled what it was like, especially what it was like to film on the river.”

One of the former actors, Vladimír Bejval, later ended up in the United States; several years ago in an interview for Radio Prague, he described what it was like to work on the film:

“It was the most adventurous thing... it was an adventure for me which I'll never forget in my whole life. It was really something. It was the best film because now the mega-films are made by computer but at that time it was done by hand by the animator. When the brontosaurus or dinosaur came from here to here, it took him six hours. It was a piece of art and until now in the United States and Canada they show this movie to students and say, this is a piece of art."”