New documentary depicts Czech statesman Vaclav Havel’s celebration of freedom

A friend of Israel, Havel opposed the sale of weapons to regimes hostile to our country and always spoke forcefully against anti-Semitism in Europe and in the world.

February 15, 2015 22:21
2 minute read.
Andrea Sedlackova

CZECH/FRENCH filmmaker Andrea Sedlackova poses at the screening of her latest documentary at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque.. (photo credit: MAXIM REIDER)

‘Vaclav Havel is my hero, and I wanted to tell people about him,” says Czech-born French film director Andrea Sedlackova, speaking of her newest documentary, Vaclav Havel – Living in Freedom. “Havel was a fighter, he lived up to his beliefs and principles and was eager to pay a heavy price, spending years in prison. But by his entire life he proved that in the long run the truth emerges [victorious].”

The documentary was screened during a festive evening last Monday at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the signing of the protocol on the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the Czech Republic and Israel. A friend of Israel, Havel opposed the sale of weapons to regimes hostile to our country and always spoke forcefully against anti-Semitism in Europe and in the world.

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Israeli leaders actively involved in the reestablishment of diplomatic relations, such as foreign minister Moshe Arens; Yoel Sher, the first Israeli ambassador to Czechoslovakia; Prof. Shlomo Avineri and chairman of the Czechoslovak Compatriots Association Nathan Steiner took part in a panel discussion, along with other prominent guests.

Havel, a playwright, thinker and dissident, was the last Czechoslovak and the first Czech president (1989-2003). After he left the post, he focused primarily on the promotion of human rights. He died on December 18, 2011, at the age of 75. “This is my ‘Life of Havel,’” says Sedlackova. “Other directors would have told it in another way. I tell this story as only a woman can.”

Sedlackova emigrated to France in 1989 just months before the Velvet Revolution – the non-violent transition of Communist Czechoslovakia to a parliamentary republic, but before that was lucky enough to have personally met Havel. She plunged into film archives throughout the world and came back with some 600 hours of footage, some of which had never been screened before. The result was a very personal story.

Sedlackova leaves politics out of her movie, but rather shows Havel as a man of courage and charm, accompanying the footage with her own narration. This is a very atmospheric film – the charismatic Havel, his devoted friends, the many women who adored him. Havel the playwright, Havel the leader, the free-and-easy Bohemian atmosphere and that solemn inauguration, and above all – yes, this touch of French cinema.

The movie was received differently in Western Europe and in the Czech Republic.

“The reaction was very positive in France and Germany, because people there don’t know much about Havel’s personality, yet it met a lot of criticism in his own land,” says the director. “Which is easy to understand: for us Czechs, he is our own flesh and blood and everybody has different ideas about Havel; also we Czechs criticize everything.”

“To the best of our knowledge the documentary has been acquired by one of the Israeli TV channels and will be screened in Israel soon,” says Lukas Pribyl, director of the Czech Center in Tel Aviv and the driving force behind the year-long Czech culture festival in Israel. “This screening is just the beginning of a lager program, which includes a photo exhibition, the unveiling of ‘Havel’s Bank’ by famous Czech artist Borek Sipek at the campus of Hebrew University, presentation of one of Havel’s plays by the Czech dance group Spitfire Company at the theater festival in Acre in autumn 2015 and the realization of a film festival about Vaclav Havel, to name a few.”

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