For the Love of a Woman, For the Love of Prague

On Friday afternoon, the Lapidarium hosted a meeting with the American filmmaker Gene Deitch, who connected his life not only with animated film but also with Czechoslovakia, where he found both love and a suitable working environment.

Gene Deitch, who is celebrating his 94th birthday this year, has lived a life that would amount to a captivating novel or at least a book. And a book he chose to write and now also to publish in Czech under the title For the Love in Prague. It is a truly interesting read, which interlaces his personal experiences with the transformation of the Czech society, political events and also his life's work as author of animated films. Together with the book fair visitors he reminisced over some of the decisive moments in his life during the Friday debate. "I was thirty five, I had my career going, I had an Oscar nomination and a successful studio in Manhattan. When a producer approached me to accompany him to Prague to negotiate the making of a film, I said no," he recalled. Eventually, however, the producer talked him into the trip and Gene departed on the journey that would change his life. 

He came to Czechoslovakia for ten days, but he would stay here for good, having met the woman of his life, Zdenka Najmanová, who worked at the Barrandov film studios for the company Bratři v triku. They shared affection for animated film and Gene eventually made one here in 1960. It was called Munro and won him an Oscar. It was the first animated film to ever win this prestigious award not to be made in the United States. "There were some fine people here, excellent animators. I said to myself, How is this possible that no one has ever heard about them in the States? But in the end I was happy they didn't, because I could have them all to myself," Gene laughed. "I wanted to work here and after I married Zdenka I also wanted to live here. My entire life had changed." 

More and more American films were getting made here under his supervision practically undercover, receiving further accolades and acclaim. "I felt sorry I couldn't put the names of the people who cooperated on these films in the titles. The producers said we should make the names sound American. It wasn't desirable for anyone to know that American films are being made in communist Czechoslovakia," Gene added. Later the interview, conducted by the book's Czech translator Radka Smejkalová, turned to the history and present of animated film, the beloved genre of both Gene and his wife Zdenka, who came to the debate to support her husband. Yet another topic was Gene's adaptations of the Hobit by J.R.R. Tolkien - the first film screen retelling of the book ever. The picture was only ten minutes long, featuring artwork by Adolf Born. Both Gene's life and his book are full of similar interesting stories. It was a charming encounter with people who have a lot to say and who are leaving a significant trace in Czech culture.