Kolya celebrates 10th anniversary, Havel takes New York by storm


In this week's edition - playwright Vaclav Havel takes New York by storm in a major retrospective of his works, and also picks up the theatre awards he was denied for more than two decades. And the highly successful Czech film Kolya celebrates its tenth anniversary.

The most successful Czech film of recent years - Kolya - is currently celebrating its tenth anniversary. Released in 1996, the film was a touching tale of a cash-strapped concert cellist in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia, who finds himself the stepfather of a five-year-old Russian boy after a money-making scheme goes wrong. The film won an Oscar - the first Czech film to do so since Jiri Menzel's Closely Observed Trains in 1966 - and has since been seen by 15 million people in 43 countries. To celebrate Kolya's tenth anniversary the film's creators - including director Jan Sverak and his father Zdenek, who starred and also co-wrote the screenplay - held a discussion at the Russian Cultural Centre on Thursday. Jan Sverak had this to say after the event:

"I was watching this film yesterday, and I was still touched and surprised how the script is nice, how the dialogue works and how my father was young. That was what I found slightly melancholic about it."

Do you think the film still stands the test of time today, does it still have that same magic?

"Of course film dates, and even Kolya dates, but I think ten years is not such a long time. I would say after 30-40 years. When I was a child I watched Charlie Chaplin silent movies, and it was part of the culture at that time, 30 years ago. And today, you can't see it on TV. My kids wouldn't understand why someone would want to watch silent movies and black and white movies, what's so funny about it? The same will happen to Kolya as well, but not yet."

From left: Jan and Zdenek Sverak,  actresses Lilian Malkin and Irina Bezrukov,  photo: CTK
Today the relationship between Czechs and Russians was rather different, because only recently had the Red Army left Czechoslovakia, and it was only a few years since the fall of communism. Do you think a film like Kolya, which takes place within this Czech-Russian dynamic, can still be as relevant today as it was ten years ago?

"You are correct. At that time, for us Czechs, the film had a completely different charge. It was this big guy, my father, representing the small country, and the oppressor, the hated enemy and our neighbour, was represented by this small cute boy. And this dilemma was something, and for the outside audiences, for Americans or Japanese, the core of the story and why they love the movie was the father-son relationship, the humanity of it. This is the quality that the Czech audience today can appreciate in Kolya, not anymore the relationship between the Czech Republic and Russia. Because we are now - finally - two separate entities."

And no plans to make Kolya 2 - Kolya as a young man?

"No, no, no. Of course when we finished shooting, [Andrei Chalimon - the Russian child actor who played] Kolya had this idea, he said - OK, I left the country with my mother, and I became a doctor in Germany, and [the Zdenek Sverak] character will be very sick, as an old man, and I will come back from Germany to heal you."

But nothing came of that then.

"No, no. I don't believe in second and third parts. They're usually not as good as the original."

Vaclav Havel with an OBIE,  photo: CTK
Former president Vaclav Havel is one of the world's most eminent playwrights, and this week in New York he finally got the chance to pick up a few awards. Mr Havel won the Village Voice OBIE Award for Distinguished Playwriting - Off-Broadway's highest honour - in 1968, 1970, and 1984, but was unable to collect the awards in person, for the simple reason that he was placed under house arrest by the communist regime.

Vaclav Havel - the only head of state ever to receive an OBIE - is currently in New York at the invitation of Columbia University's Arts Initiative, and so this week he was invited to the city's Newman Theatre to pick up the prestigious prizes.

The ceremony followed a major retrospective of Mr Havel's plays, the first time anywhere in fact that all of his plays had been performed in one festival. Radio Prague spoke to the festival's artistic director Edward Einhorn, from New York's Untitled Theatre:

"We did 18 plays in all, a mixture of full-length and one act, so some of them were on individual programmes, some of them were on double bills and such. But we put them all on within the course of about 5-6 weeks."

And what kind of response was there from the audience?

"It was a very enthusiastic response. A lot of people coming to the theatre had heard of President Havel's work and knew about it, but had never gotten a chance to really see it, and those who had had only seen one or maybe two plays. Even though he's very well known, not a lot of his plays had been performed in the United States recently. So people were very excited about the chance to see a lot of the plays together, and I think they came off very well. It's a particularly interesting experience not only to see a playwright's play but to see them reflecting one against the other. I think you get a whole new appreciation of they way they're writing, what they're writing about, and I think audiences really appreciate that as well."

Did Vaclav Havel attend any of the performances himself?

"He did. He attended about eight or nine of the performances. I think he was getting more and more excited as he was going. He was originally intending to attend a couple, and he enjoys those, and became interested in what the next one would be like. So he started arriving unannounced at the theatre just to find out what some of the other plays were like. He had told me that he was most excited about the fact that there were a few plays he had sort of giving up on, there were plays he felt were his strong plays, and there were these other plays that he wasn't sure he liked anymore, and he enjoyed our productions of those, so he sort of had a renewed interest in those plays as well."

Vaclav Havel
It must have been very exciting for the actors to meet the playwright in person after the performance.

"It was extraordinarily exciting, for everyone. I think it was exciting for the actors to meet the playwright, and have him say hello. Often we didn't tell the actors that he was in the audience until afterwards, because we didn't want to make them overly nervous. But he would say hello to them each time after the show, he was very gracious with everyone. It was exciting for the audiences, to see him watching his own plays. It was exciting for the festival staff, just to have him coming in and out. The most important thing to us was that President Havel enjoyed the work, above anything, and he did. So we were really gratified that he kept coming back."