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Jiří Weiss
Born (1913-03-29)March 29, 1913
Died April 9, 2004(2004-04-09) (aged 91)
Santa Monica, California, U.S.
Nationality Czech
Occupation Film director, Screenwriter
Years active 1935-1991
Spouse(s)
Daniela Smutná
(div. 1966)

Kateřina Mizerová

Jiří Weiss (29 March 1913 – 9 April 2004) was a Czech film director, screenwriter, writer, playwright and pedagogue.

Life

Early life

Jiří Weiss was born to a wealthy Jewish family in Prague. He was named after the Czech king Jiří z Poděbrad. His father was an industrialist. Since his youth Weiss was a communist, which created conflicts with his capitalist parents. He was friends with Franz Kafka's niece Marianne Pollaková and read Kafka's books in the 1920s. He was interested in films, but his parents preferred him to be an attorney. He left home and lived with his friend and later director K. M. Walló. His father had him institutionalized in a mental hospital and Weiss never spoke to him again. In his early twenties he worked as a copywriter for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in Prague. At this time he wrote his first book for children O věrné Hadimršce. He befriended leftist intellectuals, including Vladislav Vančura or Ivan Olbracht. Vančura invited him to be an assistant cinematographer on his movie Marijka the Faithless in 1934.

Filmmaking

Weiss borrowed a 16mm camera and inspired by Soviet filmmakers he made his first amateur film about young people canoeing on Sázava river. He sent the film to Venice Film Festival where it placed 5th best among 72 movies in 1935. He was approached by Eastman Kodak Company and exchanged the film with them for 35mm film stock. He again borrowed a camera and made another film with the same theme and same actors called People in the Sun. He edited the film during nights using equipment of MGM offices. The film was screened at Kotva cinema in Prague as part of the avant–garde program together with The Blood of a Poet or Un Chien Andalou. Weiss was praised by local critics and won a state prize 10,000 Kčs. In 1936 he was hired at A-B studio in Prague and made his first professional film Sun Is Shining over Lužnice. He then apprenticed with directors Martin Frič and Hugo Haas. In 1936 he directed a short documentary about aviation Give us the Wings (). Weiss was in the middle of shooting the documentary for the 20 year anniversary of Czechoslovakia Twenty Years of Freedom when Munich Agreement happened.

In 1939 after the occupation of Czechoslovakia he fled to England and used the footage to make a documentary about the troubles of his country. In 1942 he wrote a book Lost Government. On March 13, 1943 Weiss and Ota Ornest directed a MacNeice's play A Town without a Name at Royal Albert Hall. Later he joined No. 311 Squadron RAF. His rank in the British Army was a captain. He joined 21st Army Group to document the liberation of France, Belgium and Netherlands. He was present at the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp.

He returned to Prague on May 13, 1945. All of his family, including his parents, died in the Holocaust. He made his first full-length feature film The Stolen Frontier in 1947. Weiss, still a devoted communist, turned away from politics during the communist persecutions in the early 1950s. He made his most successful films in the late 1950s and 1960s, including Wolf Trap (1957), Romeo, Juliet and Darkness (1959) and Czechoslovak-British co-production Ninety Degrees in the Shade (1965).

After the Warsaw Pact invasion he left Czechoslovakia and lived in West Berlin, where he taught at film school. Later he moved to the United States. There he taught film at Hunter College, New York and UCSB, Santa Barbara. He became an American citizen in 1986. He continued to write screenplays, but none of them were produced. During this time he wrote two plays – The Jewish War (1986) and Berenice (1990). In 1991 he made his last film Martha and I. He wrote a book of memoirs, Bílý Mercedes, in 1995. He was married three times and had two children. He died in Santa Monica in 2004.

Selected filmography

Feature films

  • The Stolen Frontier (1947)
  • Dravci (1948)
  • The Last Shot (1950)
  • New Fighters Shall Arise (1950)
  • My Friend the Gipsy (1953)
  • Wolf Trap (1957)
  • Romeo, Juliet and Darkness (1959)
  • The Coward (1961)
  • Golden Fern (1963)
  • Ninety Degrees in the Shade (1965)
  • Martha and I (1991)

Documentaries

  • People in the Sun (1935)
  • Give us the Wings (1936)
  • A Song About Carpathian Ruthenia (1937)
  • Eternal Prague (1940)
  • 100 Million Women (1942)
  • Fighter Pilot (1943)
  • Before the Raid (1943)
  • Night and Day (1945)
  • We Will Remain Faithful (1945)
  • O věrné Hadimršce (1935)
  • The Lost Government Or Do You Really Like It? (1945)
  • Jejich starosti / Zátopkovy nohy / Rothschildovy peníze (1966)
  • Bílý Mercedes (1995)
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