Ondříček filming story of “king of Šumava” Hasil for series
Film director David Ondříček is currently shooting a TV series about the fascinating Czech Cold War figure Josef Hasil. His exploits smuggling defectors to the West led to the nickname “king of Šumava”.
A native of the Šumava Mountains, Josef Hasil was a border guard on what was effectively the Iron Curtain before switching sides and becoming a cross-border agent.
His derring-do in smuggling defectors to the West led Communist Czechoslovakia’s secret police to list him as the “king of Šumava” in their files. The nickname later stuck.
After his success with the major biopic Zátopek, leading Czech movie director David Ondříček is now filming Hasil’s story for a TV miniseries.
He spoke to Czech Radio near the Šumava village of České Žleby, a couple of kilometres from the Bavarian border.
“This is ‘the valley of death’. The highest number of people were killed here – and were then buried without their identities being established. The most border guards were also killed here, and it was here that Bohumil Hasil, Josef Hasil’s brother, was shot dead. So it’s a huge joy for us to shoot in this place. I don’t have to explain much to the actors – they just soak it up here.”
Young actor Oskar Hes is playing the lead in the three-part series, which is based on the novel The Return of the King of Šumava, by David Jan Žák.
“We’re doing our best to understand what he was like as a person. Of course we have no hope of getting him perfectly, but we’re trying to create our version of him, based on his smile. Josef Hasil is constantly positive, even in terrible situations. So we’re going for that smile, for a kind of Belmondo.”
Director Ondříček offers his interpretation of the elusive “king of Šumava”, who is in his mid-20s at the time the series is set.
“For me he’s a young guy, full of energy. He has a huge imagination and desire to cross borders. Not just real ones, but those of the mind. He has a massive desire to see the world and nothing is going to stop him.”
Also present at the shooting has been Hasil’s son, Josef Vavra, who spoke to Czech Radio.
“I’m glad that it has worked out. It’s easy to watch, because it’s all true. It has been confirmed that dad was right in everything he did and that what he did was meaningful.”
Josef Hasil, who himself escaped from a Communist prison, is seen as a hero by many. However, others never forgave him for the shooting dead of a border guard.
He spent most of his life in the United States as Joseph Hasil and died in Chicago in 2019 at the age of 95.
David Ondříček’s take on the king of Šumava story is set for release in November this year.