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Obituary of Jiri Weiss, Czech Director

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  • Matt Cross
    Obituary of Jiri Weiss New York Times 6 Jun 2004 June 6, 2004 Jiri Weiss, Czech Director Who Shaped Postwar Cinema, Dies at 91 By LILY KOPPEL Jiri Weiss, a
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 6, 2004
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      Obituary of Jiri Weiss
      New York Times
      6 Jun 2004

      June 6, 2004

      Jiri Weiss, Czech Director Who Shaped Postwar Cinema, Dies at 91

      By LILY KOPPEL

      Jiri Weiss, a central figure of Czechoslovakia's postwar cinema, died on
      April 9 in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 91 and had lived for the last two
      decades in Los Angeles.

      His death was announced by his wife, Katerina Weiss.

      Mr. Weiss wrote and directed more than 20 feature films, many of them war
      dramas told in the context of ordinary lives and drawing on his own
      experience in the war. His films, which won many international awards, also
      blended fairy tales, novels and the satire of the Czech New Wave.

      When the Germans invaded in 1939, Mr. Weiss fled from Prague and went to
      Paris and then London, where he worked for the British Crown Film Unit. In
      London, he documented the war in "The Rape of Czechoslovakia" (1939) and
      produced fiction films, "John Smith Wakes Up" (1941) and "Before the Raid"
      (1943).

      A member of the Communist party, he returned to his county in 1945 and
      stayed to make many successful films under political and artistic
      constraints. "When it was impossible to make good movies, he made a movie
      about a dog," said the director Ivan Passer of Mr. Weiss's popular
      children's film, "Punta and the Four-Leaf Clover" (1955).

      His first feature film, "Stolen Frontier" (1947) told the story of the
      members of a Czech frontier village during the war. "The Wolf Trap" won the
      critics' prize at the Venice Film Festival in 1957, and for "Romeo and
      Juliet and Darkness" (1960), he won the Grand Prix at the San Sebastian and
      Taormina film festivals.

      "Romeo" tells the story of a young Jewish girl who is sent to her death in a
      concentration camp by her neighbors.

      Also highly acclaimed were "The Golden Fern" (1963), "Ninety Degrees in the
      Shade" (1965), an English-language film, and "Murder Czech Style" (1967), a
      dark comedy about a foolish clerk who is cuckolded by the woman he loves.

      Mr. Weiss taught at FAMU, the Film Academy in Prague, and influenced a
      younger generation of directors who led the Czech New Wave, like Vojtech
      Jasny, later a mentor of Milos Forman.

      When the Soviets invaded Czechoslovakia in 1968, Mr. Weiss again fled,
      living in Rome and England before relocating to the United States. He lived
      in New York and then moved to Los Angeles.

      He also taught film courses at Hunter College in New York and at the
      University of California, Santa Barbara. He published a book of memoirs,
      "The White Mercedes."

      In 1990, he directed the French-German film "Martha and I," with Marianne
      Sagebrecht and Michael Piccoli, which was voted most popular at the San
      Francisco International Film Festival in 1991.

      Mr. Weiss was born on March 29, 1913, in Prague into a German Jewish
      community. He graduated from Charles University and abandoned his law
      studies for journalism and then for documentary filmmaking.

      Besides his wife, of Los Angeles, his survivors include a daughter, Jirina
      Bila of Prague; a son, Jiri Weiss Jr. of San Francisco; and three
      grandchildren.

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