Chapter 23: Self-Help For Nudnik
So I came here to do the two shorts. The first thing I realized, with great relief, was that this thing had nothing whatever to do with politics. You can believe though, that when, I first saw the neon hammer & sickle they still had at the airport in those days, I had one horrible moment of cold fear. An instant later I was greeted by a charming, grandmotherly lady, and an experience began that has been largely pure joy. Everything about these people was great. I saw immediately that they were not "communists," but were simply animators and filmmakers like I am, with all the same concentration on doing their thing. "Friendly" is not an adequate word to describe the way they accepted me, and worked with me to please me. It was a family thing. It was love. And Prague was (and is) the loveliest city in the whole world..("San Franciscans of the world, Unite!")
All these years, while I have been swamped in making the same old thing, (though we did win the Oscar and get five nominations), for the American market, I have watched, with considerable envy, the Czech directors, who make considerably less money than I must, to support my immense family, do the kind of films they want to make, at a leisurely pace of one or two shorts a year, (as I struggled to direct up to 26 theatrical shorts a year).
So it has taken me all this time to answer your shortest question, "What is my exact role in the Czech animation?" To watch it with envy.
That is certainly all you will ever want to know about me, and now I will tell you about them.
"purposes of animation produced? ... Main uses?...TV?...etc."
My blunt answer to this would be that animation is mainly produced here for purposes of national prestige...."Kultura" with a capital "K" .... All of the arts are nationally supported in Czechoslovakia, and are not expected to, and certainly do not, pay their own way. (It costs about 350 for a ticket to see the absolute equivalent of the best Broadway play.) I go to the films a lot, but I rarely see a Czech cartoon or any cartoon on the program They do play, but they make very few color prints of each picture, and the distribution is very thin. nowadays, with Czech films being so hot in the world, they are selling quite a few for screening abroad, mainly in Western Europe and underdeveloped countries around the world, but rarely to the U.S. The fact is that the great majority of the Czech cartoons (again I emphasize that these are not our pictures, which are not shown here at all, but are made to order for our customers in the U.S.) ... The Czech cartoons are really made for the various festivals. They are made to please critics, not people. There is a great tendency to reach artificially for "artistic" effects. As a result, many of them do not reach the ordinary Czech at all. It's a weird paradox here, that although I never found the kind of political censorship I expected when I first came here, they do have, in effect, a kind of reverse-english pseudo-artistic commercial censorship. In other words, a film doesn't get approved for production) the chiefs of the various film units, unless they think it will be a good prospect for some Golden Lemon award somewhere, and/or will bring in some shekels from West Germany. It's interesting that the group which we have developed to do our U.S.A. films, which we have set up as a completely separate unit of about 65 people, in a separate building on the other side of town from the main Czech cartoon studio, is now geared very much to the American style, pace and attitude of production, and many of our kids feel that the "Klarov" group is full of hopeless dreamers.
The Klarov group neither produces anything for the "government". There are several documentary, advertising, and even army film units that make films in their own categories. The Klarov Kresleny Film studio produces strictly "entertainment," and "artistic" films. Of course many fine artists and directors work there, and as you know by the best of their work, which you have seen, that they do a very high level of work, and I envy their creative life, unbound by the realities of the market place as I know it. What I have mentioned as commercial or festival pressures on them could be seen as unlimited creative freedom compared to the grotesque mediocrity forced upon us by our own commercial realities.