Oscar-winning director Milos Forman, famous for “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and “Amadeus”, fled Czechoslovakia after the Prague Spring of 1968.
Profession: Film Director
Country of Origin: Czech Republic
Country of Asylum: United States of America
Date of birth: 18 February 1932
His father, a Jewish teacher who was in the underground movement, and his mother, a Protestant, died during World War II in Nazi concentration camps. Orphaned at the age of 10, Forman went to live with his uncle. In Prague, he attended the University Film Institute, married twice and had two sons. With the temporary relaxation of censorship under the influence of Soviet President Nikita Kruschev, Forman became part of what was known as the Czech New Wave and established himself as an influential filmmaker.
He received international acclaim for “Loves of a Blonde” (1965) and “The Fireman’s Ball” (1967), which was banned in Communist Czechoslovakia for 20 years for “making fun of the common man”. At first, the authorities deliberately screened “The Fireman’s Ball” in the small town where it was shot, hoping it would be condemned by the fire-fighters Forman was accused of ridiculing. Yet, according to the director, the firemen and locals loved it and applauded. The film was later banned.
At the time of the Soviet invasion, which put an end to the Prague Spring, Forman decided to remain in the United States, where he was directing his first Hollywood film, “Taking Off”. “I wanted to go back, but the country was occupied by the Russians,” he says. “I realised if I went back, I would not be able to do any work. I also did not want to go home as a loser. So I stayed.” His career took off, and in 1975 his movie, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”, won five Oscars.
Exile for Forman also meant giving up his family, although he managed to obtain government permission in 1976 for his sons to come to attend the Academy Award ceremonies. He acquired American citizenship in 1977. In 1984 he was allowed to return to Czechoslovakia to shoot “Amadeus”, a film that won nine Oscars. Other major films include “Hair” (1979) and “Ragtime” (1981) and, more recently, “The People Versus Larry Flynt” and “Man on the Moon”.
Many of Forman’s films have anti-establishment themes, sometimes about conflict between the generations, and often about censorship. “[Pornographer] Larry Flynt fighting for the First Amendment and Mozart fighting his Emperor when the Emperor says, ‘Too many notes, cut a few and it will be perfect.’ – that’s censorship too,” says Forman. “I guess my films are a subconscious response to the society I grew up in.”
Forman served on the Director’s Guild of America’s National Board from 1982-83, and on the Guild’s President Committee, which campaigned against the colourisation of black-and-white films and for the rights of filmmakers. He once commented with characteristic humour that at least in a totalitarian regime they only ban films; once the regime falls, you can see the original version.