Jan Špáta, film director and cameraman, made a significant contribution to Czech documentary filmmaking between 1960 and 2000.
Through his hundred-plus works, he invigorated documentary filmmaking with a sense of drama, while his original directing ideas and his eye as a director of photography significantly enriched Czech culture. The best of his movies are timeless, as fresh now as they were when they were made.
For these reasons, 18 of his most significant movies have been captured in HD quality and subsequently restored by an extensive team of experts that corrected the visual and audio elements. Now the message of his masterworks can reach today’s audiences as well as those of future generations.
Jan Špáta was born in Náchod, Czechoslovakia on October 25, 1932. In 1952 he graduated in photography from the Hellichova Graphic Design High School in Prague. In 1952-57 he studied camera at Prague’s Film Academy (FAMU). Beginning in 1957 he worked as a cameraman for newsreels, news reports, and documentaries at Krátký film Praha. He worked as a cameraman on the films of almost all documentarists of the time, the most significant of whom was Evald Schorm. This cooperation strongly influenced his desire to become an independent director. Even after directing his first film in 1964, THE GREATEST WISH, he continued to work as a cameraman. His first film, along with his second, RESPICE FINEM, took top awards at domestic and foreign festivals. In 1968, the ministry of culture awarded him for outstanding artistic contribution to modern documentary filmmaking. He began working for foreign companies in the 1960s, shooting travelogues on all continents. During his 41 year film career, he worked as a cameraman on hundreds of documentaries by many directors, both from his own generation and the one that followed, most often with his wife, director Olga Sommerová. During his 34 years as a director, he shot 107 writer-director movies, winning over 60 awards at domestic and foreign film festivals. In 1967 he taught camera at FAMU and Hochschule für Film und Gestaltung in Ulm, Germany. In 1991-2005 he lectured at the department of documentary filmmaking at FAMU, and in 2002 he was appointed professor there. In that same year he received a state decoration from President Václav Havel. He completed his career in 1998 with the two-part confessional film LOVE THAT I AM LEAVING BEHIND. After that, he wrote articles for the newspaper, a selection of which, BETWEEN LIGHT AND DARKNESS, was later compiled by Malá Skála publishing house. The same publishers put out a book-length interview, MOMENTS OF JOY, conducted by his student and publisher Martin Štoll. He is the father of two sons, Martin (1961-2001) and Jan (1963) and a daughter, Olga (1984); he also raised a stepson, Jakub (1976). In 1953 he married Blanka Beranová, then Olga Sommerová in 1981. Jan Špáta died in Prague on August 18, 2006.