Miroslav Janek - home again after years of working in film in the US

Miroslav Janek

The long and varied career of the Czech film director and editor Miroslav Janek began in Czechoslovakia and continued in the USA, where he emigrated in 1980, at the age of 26. Among a number of interesting projects, he has worked as an editor with Godfrey Reggio, famous for such films as Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqasti. Miroslav Janek was born in Nachod in east Bohemia, and first learned about film from his father, a passionate amateur filmmaker.

Do you remember your first film?

"Of course I remember my first film. It was a love story. The girl loves the boy and the boy loves the girl. They are kissing on the street and then an angry father comes and sees them. He smacks the girl and tells her to go home and the boy is very sad after that and he walks in the nature."

You have made about forty movies. How do you choose subjects of your movies?

"In the early years, in my college days I did mostly story films with no actors. They were short stories. I would just sit down and write them. Some of them were reflecting the inside of a growing person, all the frustrations and pleasures etc. In the last ten years I have been making documentaries and the most of the subjects or themes just came to me. Somehow I crossed the path with them. I never choose consciously, saying: "OK, now is time to make movie about blind children. It doesn't work like that with me. I just happen to meet somebody who says "Look, there are these children, they are blind and they are taking photographs. And I say "That is a fantastic subject for a film. Let's do it." My life and my desire to make films just crosses path with the theme that happens to be there somewhere."

The Battle for Life,  photo: www.czech-tv.cz
You are a lucky man... Are there any subjects you would never ever want to pay attention to even if you were given a lot of money?

"I have never thought about that and I think and it is difficult to say: 'No, I would never make a movie about a drug addict or a politician.' I wouldn't dare to say that. You know 'never say never'. There are areas that don't interest me very much .who knows maybe one day I will meet a special person that will break mine and general image of that particular group or political group and I might get interested in basing a story on this person and show this type society from a different point of view. What if I meet some crazy botanist, a guy who is obsessed with frogs and he is such an interesting personality that carries his obsession over caries to some more general theme. Then I will make the film. But now I don't know the guy."

Miroslav Janek says about his sources of inspiration and continues with memories of the early days of his emigration.

"I emigrated in 1979 to Germany and then in 1980 to the USA. Naturally I was trying to find work in film business. I was living in Minneapolis and listening to radio a lot. Then I found a station, the community radio station. It was fascinating to me. Because unlike other commercial stations it offered a wide variety of programmes, all kinds of music you can think of. I just liked the spirit of the radio so much that I found them and I went to visit them and I said that I wanted to make a movie about the radio station. It was a foolish idea. You know what it looks like in the radio. It is one small booth, a microphone, headphones and big racks with records. So what do you want to do? But I did because I liked the spirit of these people"

The Unseen,  photo: www.czech-tv.cz
How did you do it?

" So I chose my favourite DJs. I would shoot something with them in the radio during the broadcast but also I would also try to invent some stylisation of their personality in their real life. One of the DJs was a barber for example so I would shoot some funny scenes in a barber shop to see the variety of occupations and the love of what they do for the radio for free, for pleasure, for fun."

Miroslav Janek slowly established himself as an editor, a director as well as a teacher. And then in 1987 he was introduced to Godfrey Reggio...

"I was in New York city editing a documentary called 'John Houston and Dubliners" and I got a phone call from Alexander Hammid, a Czech avant-garde film maker living in New York since the war. He called me and he said 'Listen, there is the guy who made Koyaanisqatsi.' and I said 'Yes, of course I know him.' He was in the early 80's a huge hit in the States. 'He is looking for an editor so I gave him your name.' Couple days later Geodfrey called me and he came to visit me in my editing studio and he hired for his next film called Powaqqatsi. It was a quite thrilling situation for me. The studio set up on Powaqqatsi was absolutely amazing for me, absolutely ideal. There were three editing rooms, screening and very professional, very high working conditions."

CVs of most respected professionals usually list at least a couple of well- known film schools. The CV of Miroslav Janek proves rich experience in filmmaking but is somewhat short on educational qualification. It is perhaps surprising, then, that he himself now teaches documentary film.

"For me it is a certain type of satisfaction because I was applying during the communist time to be accepted in film school but I was never accepted for political reasons because my family didn't have very good political profile. No nothing special, nothing dramatic. I was not accepted so I am self-taught. At first when I was asked to join the documentary department at the school I though it was absurd because I don't have the school myself. What can I teach? Later I was glad to be able to make up for this lost time and to be in this academic environment and listen to all these experienced and smart guys and educated people. I am catching up on the lack of education."

Musicians,  photo: www.czech-tv.cz
How can one teach himself making films without having education?

"There are so many people who have taught themselves all kinds of different crafts, for example to make chairs and all kinds of things. You just have to do it by doing it. First you look at things how they are done then you learn how it should be done then you try to do it your own way - using the rules but maybe twisting them a little bit, using your own sensibility. That's it! If you watch a lot films and make a lot films... When I was a teenager I would make five short films a year and that gives you a lot experience not to make the same mistakes next time."

Photo: www.czech-tv.cz
Miroslav Janek returned to Prague in 1995. Although he was successful abroad, an offer from Czech Television proved too hard to turn down. It meant swapping long and complicated procedures of applying for grants for home and guaranteed work in the Czech Republic.

Is Prague definite?

"I think it is just all written in the stars. Since I moved to Prague I have already worked on two films in New York and one film in Italy. So who knows?"