In 1991, EU-TV Asked Me If I Saw The Future…


…which I didn’t. But I knew what I’d like it to be! Right after they finished quizzing Zdenka, and getting her passionate feelings, the EU TV crew hauled me before their camera. Even by 1991, thirty years after I began working in Prague, I still considered myself to be an outsider.  I did have the advantage of being Zdenka’s husband, and with already 30 years experience working with her crew, I did have an inside view, and personal friendship and collegial connection with the studio people. I had been living the local life; I was inspired by the 1989 democratic Velvet Revolution, and was even able to speak passable Czech.

The first part of this 1991 interview was a quick-as possible run-through, answering the inevitable Question Number One: “Why and how did I “decide” to come to communist Czechoslovakia????

That was the first question in every interview I ever did.  I got it digested, so I could get it said as quickly as possible, and get on to what I was actually doing, and hoped to do in the suddenly free and democratic Czechoslovakia.

I was still a foreigner – a guest in this country, but I was in a unique situation, and did have a front-row seat at a historical drama.  So I felt I could say something of value to people, if they were interested in interviewing me…

Even under the Communist Party rule, I’d been consulted by the Big Bosses for my ideas of how the studio should be organized.  But as my outline called for open relations with foreign producers, Western promotional ideas and marketing techniques, and free access to Western literature, my ideas were jovially listened to, but quickly consigned to a locked bottom drawer,

The bitter irony is that by 1991, when the studio had all of these possibilities, it was already too late.  The privatized studio fell into  the hands of those who saw value mainly in the vast archive of films; especially historic newsreel footage, all without the financial risks of new production, about which they had zero knowledge.

It was quickly realized that without the financing which the Communist government had provided, the studio was doomed.   We produced many of our best made films during that following decade, when Zdenka and I were into our 80s.  When we retired from production, and Czech TV stations set up their own studio sources, the world famous “Brothers in Tricot” layed down and played dead.

Market capitalism operates not on hot air, but on cold cash.  My suggestions that a marketing arm be established for the studio were not even taken up by the new owners! The great animation boom in the new century left the Czechs in the dust.  Within ten years after these 1991 interviews, the historic studio did a slow & steady fadeout.

Even when the independent Czech Republic was formed in 1993, Czechs still considered themselves, along with the French, to be the inventers of cinema animation, and thus sure to inevitably continue to be the leaders.  This nation was so busy getting rich and West-oriented, that the local Czech culture, including its famous animation reputation, was allowed to dissolve. Zdenka’s studio more and more depended on foreign customer production. mainly our long-time personal contacts.  Prduction of local Czech animated short films virtually vanshed.

There was no funding to develop a CGI capability. We only got as far as computerized scanning and coloring of drawn animation.

So it’s poignant and sadly instructive to see these 1991 interviews with Zdenka and me today, filmed exactly at the tipping point of Czech drawn-animation production.

GD June 2012

This was the complete staff of the Prague animation studio just three years before my first visit. You can see Zdenka there, circled in yellow, soon to be Chief of Production. This was the cartoon – drawn animation – staff at its height.