Inspirational Czech biopic ‘Zátopek’ is in the running for an Oscar nomination

The domestic box office hit examines the life of the medal-winning Olympic long-distance runner.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 11.10.2021 13:01 (updated on 11.10.2021)

The Czech sports biopic “Zátopek” will compete for the nomination for an Academy Award for Best International Feature Film, formerly known as Best Foreign Film. The Czech Film and Television Academy (ČFTA) selected director David Ondříček’s look at the life of Olympic champion Emil Zátopek from among 13 eligible Czech fiction, documentary, and animated films.

“Zátopek” had its world premiere at this year's 55th Karlovy Vary International Festival.

Václav Neužil plays the tile role and Martha Issová portrays his wife, Czech javelin thrower Dana Zátopková. Ondříček worked on the screenplay together with Alice Nellis and Jan P. Muchow.

“The life story of Emil Zátopek was and is a huge challenge for me. It is almost a classic story of an outsider and basically not a very talented athlete,” Ondříček said.

“At the same time, it is the story of a man with a great will and desire to win, stubborn and unbreakable, who has become a legend. [He was] a lonely, thoughtful runner and at the same time a cheerful speaker who longs for admiration; an athlete with a huge desire to beat his opponents, but for whom friendship was more important than victory,” Ondříček added.

David Ondříček is among the most successful contemporary Czech directors. In 2012, entertainment industry journal Variety named him one of 10 directors to watch.

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He made his directorial debut in 1996 with the film “Whisper” (Šeptej), which was number two among Czech films at the box office that year. His 2000 film “Loners” (Samotáři), 2003 film “One Hand Can’t Clap” (Jedna ruka netleská), and 2006 film “Grandhotel” all won Czech Lion Awards and were well-received at film festivals.

The 2012 drama “In the Shadow” (Ve stínu) won nine Czech Lion Awards, including awards for Best Film and Best Direction. The 2018 historical disaster miniseries “Dukla 61” won a Czech Lion for Best TV Film or Miniseries.

The 94th Academy Awards ceremony is scheduled for March 27, 2022. Each country can submit one film for consideration for Best International Feature Film, and from those, a short list of at least 10 films will be announced Dec. 21, 2021. From that list, five nominations will be announced Feb. 8, 2022.

The 354 ČFTA members voted between Set. 27 and Oct. 8. Olmo Omerzu’s drama “Bird Atlas” (Atlas ptáků) and Jan Bubeníček and Denisa Grimmová’s animated feature “Even Mice Belong in Heaven” (Myši patří do nebe) were the runners up in the voting.

Last year, Agnieszka Holland’s drama “Charlatan” (Šarlatán) made it to the Oscar’s short list but was not nominated.

In the history of the Academy Awards, two Czechoslovak and one Czech film have won for Best Foreign Language Film. In 1965, Ján Kádár and Elmar Klose’s wartime drama “The Shop on Main Street” (Obchod na korze) won, followed two years later by Jiří Menzel’s “Closely Watched Trains” (Ostře sledované vlaky). After the split of Czechoslovakia, Jan Svěrák’s 1996 drama “Kolja” earned the trophy.

Six other Czech films have been nominated. Two were by Miloš Forman: the 1966 comedy “Loves of a Blonde” and 1968 comedy “The Firemen's Ball” (Hoří, má panenko). The others were Jiří Menzel’s 1986 comedy “My Sweet Little Village” (Vesničko má středisková), Jan Svěrák 1991 comedy “The Elementary School” (Obecná škola), Jan Hřebejk’s 2000 drama “Divided We Fall” (Musíme si pomáhat), and Ondřej Trojan’s 2003 drama 2003 “Želary.”

The first person from Czechoslovakia to win an Oscar award was 12-year-old Ivan Jandl. He earned the Academy Juvenile Award for his role in “The Search,” an American film by Fred Zinnemann, in 1949.

Geri's Game,” a 1997 animated short film by Czech-born Jan Pinkava, won for Best Animated Short Film. Czech singer and pianist Markéta Irglová and Irish musician Glen Hansard won the award for the Best Original Song for “Falling Slowly” from the 2007 Irish film “Once.”

The most successful Czech-born filmmaker, Miloš Forman, earned Oscars for his 1975 American drama “One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest” 1984 and costume drama “Amadeus.” That film received eight Academy Awards, with two others also going to Czechs: Theodor Pištěk for Best Costume Design and Karel Černý for Best Art Direction.

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