Michaela Pavlatova: an Oscar-nominated Czech animator

Michaela Pavlatova

The animated film director Michaela Pavlatova is in the limelight for this week's Czechs Today. Her films have received numerous awards at international festivals, including an Oscar nomination.

Michaela Pavlatova
"The most successful film was 'Words, Words, Words', which was finished in 1991, and in 1993 it was nominated for an Oscar. Prior to that, it won prizes at all sorts of festivals. Then came this Oscar nomination. It was unbelievable."

The top spot in my personal chart goes to Michaela's movie 'Forever and Ever'. The fifteen minute long picture combines animation with documentary techniques and with black irony shows scenes from the life of a long -married couple.

'Words,  Words,  Words',  illustration: Michaela Pavlatova
"Firstly I am very happy that you liked that film because I liked it also. Because the movie wasn't appreciated as much and didn't get as much attention it wasn't taken to as many festivals as I wanted. I have heard many times. 'Yes it is nice but it is so sad.' Yes, it is the mistake of the movie. What I wanted to show were the possibilities of being married. You can be happily married or there can be problems. Very often you see that people are not happy in their marriages. If you compare the percentage of happy marriages and divorces to car accidents...you probably wouldn't get in your car if the likelihood of a car accident was so high. But in marriages you think: 'It is not about me.'"

The latest movie 'The Carnival of Animals' took two years to make. It is a musical, erotic, animated fantasy says Michaela.

'Forever and Ever',  illustration: Michaela Pavlatova
"I wanted to make a movie with erotic elements for a long time, but it is a tricky theme. I didn't know how to find the way to do it. Because there is a very narrow line between what is erotic and what is vulgar. I see it with my parents. They cannot swallow this film. And I know how much they would love to like it because they love me and they like everything I do but they cannot cross their shadows, they belong to an older generation and they don't like it."

Do you think it is not vulgar? There are a few scenes which are so close to the line that I was a bit surprised, although I did like it. And I am a lot younger than your parents.

"This line is different with everyone. I think if a man had made this movie it would be more daring and more direct. This is just my line that I think is not vulgar. There are a few elements that might remind you of naked parts of male and female bodies. But they are just drawings they are not real things,"

'The Carnival of Animals',  illustration: Michaela Pavlatova
... says Michaela about The Carnival of Animals.

"I am very curious how it will do at festivals. I think that mostly people will want to watch it but I think it will not get an award. It might get an award from an audience but it also depends on the people in the audience. And it won't be nominated for an Oscar because it is not sexually correct."

It seems sarcastic and ironic more than anything else. It didn't give me this impression 'Look, it is beautiful.' It is as if you were making fun of sex and this world being obsessed with sex.

'Graveyard',  illustration: Michaela Pavlatova
"Yes you are right, there are not nice scenes about a nice man and a nice woman being in nice love and hugging each other and kissing each other nicely. It is not interesting for me. What is interesting for me is conflict. You have to exaggerate everything you have to be a little more direct. How can you exaggerate when something that is just nice? You can make it even nicer and then it is sugary. I like sarcasm. I like being ironic. It is more interesting for me."

Do you think you will ever get bored or tired of animating and drawing and say: 'That is enough.'

"I often get bored with animation and then I do something else. I do illustration or I do life action, I make a small book for children or stories. Always when I finish work like writing, I want to draw, when I finish drawing, I want to be with real people, with actors. It is like a chain of different occupations. Now I am making illustrations for the publishers Albatros, for Astrid Lindgren's early stories. It is such nice change. I just sit and draw and I can listen to the radio."

'On Grandma',  illustration: Michaela Pavlatova
Michaela smiles warmly and looks content. A few minutes ago she turned down an offer to go to a festival in Melbourne. "I have also rejected an offer to teach at Harvard again. I want to stay here in Prague with my family." she explains. It is obvious how much she cherishes her world.

"It sounds stupid but I don't want to work for rich companies. Because when you work for rich companies you are working on a product. So far I am happy that I can do what I want. I can do what I write for myself. That freedom of choice, that freedom that I am doing what I have chosen is such a luxury that as long as I can have it, I am taking advantage of it."

Michaela animates stories she writes herself, grateful for every good idea. She is nowadays considered one of the top animators worldwide. Born in Prague in 1961, she graduated from the academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague in 1987, at a time when the communist regime still supported young graduates.

"I was really lucky because I finished the school at the right time. There was still a state studio which had a budget from the state, they had money and they had to produce a certain number of animation movies and short movies every year. So I did three animated short movies at the beginning which were like a presentation where I could show that I was able to do something. If I were in the situation of the students who are finishing schools right now, I am not sure I would have enough will to continue. There is so much work but you don't have money for it and it is not shown anywhere."

Animated movies don't attract as much attention as live movies. There are no actors to be interviewed and animators are not interested in publicity. They live their own lives away from the crowd.

"The world of animation is not as competitive as live action films because there is not so much. Probably it is different with animated features because that is a business. But animation shorts are something that no one needs and mankind can survive without it. We are just like crazy people who damage their eyes and vision with animating but somehow we like doing it."