February 15 - 17, 2001

American Cinematheque presents...

A Ship With Painted Sails: The Fabulous Animation of Karel Zeman!

Presented in association with the National Film Archive, Prague, the Czech Center, New York, and the Consulate General of the Czech Republic, Los Angeles.


Sponsored by the World Animation Celebration.


Series Compiled by Dennis Bartok.

Special Thanks to: Vladimir Opela/NATIONAL FILM ARCHIVE, PRAGUE; Irena Kovarova/CZECH CENTER, NEW YORK; Zdenka Gabalova/CONSULATE GENERAL OF THE CZECH REPUBLIC IN LOS ANGELES; Ludmila Zeman-Spaleny and Linda Spaleny; Marco DeBlois/CINEMATHEQUE QUEBECOISE; Robert Skotak; Joe Dante.

Tickets available 30 days in advance.


SCHEDULE (by series)

SCHEDULE (by date)





The films of master Czech animator and director Karel Zeman (1910 - 1989) are a glittering jewelbox filled with wonders spun from ancient myth and modern science: moon men and underwater pirates, pedal-powered airships and diabolical engines of destruction.

In films like THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE and BARON MUNCHAUSEN, Zeman combined cartoon and stop-motion animation, puppetry, matte paintings and live action, creating a fantastic mechanical clockwork that anticipated the work of later animator/directors such as Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton. Born in 1910 in Ostromer, Czechoslovakia, Zeman began his career as a window dresser and poster artist, graduating to filmmaking in the mid-1940's with a series of shorts featuring his animated alter-ego, Mr. Prokouk. Inspired by the pioneering films of magician/director Georges Melies and the fiction of Jules Verne, Zeman began animating, art directing and often writing his own features in the early 1950's, overcoming miniscule budgets and rudimentary equipment to create his elaborate adventures. The joy of Zeman's work is often in the details: stop-motion owls against a crescent moon sky, a gold pocketwatch trapped in a bottle, a crew of sailors who literally paint their ship into existence.

All films in Czech with English subtitles, except for BARON MUNCHAUSEN, OFF ON A COMET, 1001 NIGHTS, KRABAT - THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE and THE TALE OF JOHN & MARY, shown in English-dubbed versions.

Thursday, February 15 - 7:00 PM

THE FABULOUS WORLD OF JULES VERNE (VYNALEZ ZKAZY) - 1958, 90 min. With Arnost Navratil, Lubor Tokos, Jana Zatloukalova. Zeman's most famous film is a triumph of visual imagination, combining non-stop adventure - undersea pirates, fantastical airships, giant kraken and more - with moments of pure poetry. An splendid amalgam of Verne's An Invention for Destruction, 20,000 Leagues Under The Sea and other works, FABULOUS WORLD follows a brilliant-but-naive inventor and his resourceful assistant, who are abducted by a Nemo-like madman seeking to control the world's most powerful explosive. Probably the finest (if not the most faithful) adaptation of Verne's work ever made. Plus, the documentary short "The Fabulous World of Karel Zeman," 1962, 20 min. Dir. Zdenek Rozkopal. Introduction to screening by Zeman's granddaughter, Linda Spaleny.


Thursday, February 15 - 9:30 PM

"Mr. Prokouk and More! The Early Zeman Shorts 1946 - 1955" (approx. 93 min. total). Zeman first achieved fame for his beloved "Mr. Prokouk" animated shorts, featuring his alter-ego, a long-nosed, mustachioed Everyman in a pork-pie hat. Please join us for seven of the delightful, rarely-seen "Mr. Prokouk" films, along with Zeman's very first work, "The Christmas Dream" (Vanocni sen), 1946, and his simply amazing short "Inspiration" (Inspirace), 1948, a love-story set inside a single drop of water, which Zeman animated by heating and bending fragile blown-glass figurines!


Friday, February 16 - 7:00 PM

BARON MUNCHAUSEN (BARON PRASIL) - 1961, 90 min. The whimsical Baron Munchausen (Milos Kopecky) mistakes a modern-day astronaut for a lost Moon Man, and leads him on a series of miraculous adventures, riding on seahorses, battling the Sultan's armies, and romancing the beautiful Princess Bianca (Jana Brejchova.) Zeman's lovely, humorous version of Gottfried BŸrger's classic tale is like a 19th-century magic lantern show brought to life.


Friday, February 16 - 9:00 PM Double-Feature:

THE TREASURE OF BIRD ISLAND (POKLAD PTACIHO OSTROVA) - 1952, 77 min. Dir. Karel Zeman. Inspired by a Persian fairy-tale, and told in the ornate style of illustrated Persian manuscripts, Zeman's first feature is set on a remote island, where the inhabitants discover a legendary treasure that brings them both joy and grief. For the first time in BIRD ISLAND, Zeman combined stop-motion puppetry and traditional animation to create a timeless, glittering world of wonders. JOURNEY TO THE BEGINNING OF TIME (CESTA DO PRAVEKU) - 1954, 75 min. Zeman's acclaimed prehistoric fantasy follows the adventures of four young boys who visit a natural history museum, and later discover a mysterious cavern that leads them back to the Age of Dinosaurs, where they encounter a wonderful gallery of stop-motion animated stegosaurs, pterodactyls and other ancient creatures.


Saturday, February 17 - 5:00 PM

OFF ON A COMET (NA KOMETE) - 1970, 90 min. Dir. Karel Zeman. With Magda Vasaryova, Emil Horvath. Based on Jules Verne's novel Hector Servadac, OFF ON A COMET is a surreal anti-war fable about a 19th-century colonial army stationed in Africa that finds itself literally sucked off the face of the Earth by a passing comet, and forced to fend for itself in a mysterious alien world filled with legions of ancient dinosaurs. Plus, the short "King Lavra," 1950, 32 min. Dir. Karel Zeman.


Saturday, February 17 - 7:30 PM Double-Feature:

THE STOLEN AIRSHIP (UKRADENA VZDUCHOLOD) - 1967, 88 min. Dir. Karel Zeman. On a lark, five young boys steal an airship from the Prague Centenary Exhibition of 1891, and journey to a distant island, where they encounter the legendary Captain Nemo himself. "Certainly the filmmaker's marvelous miniatures originate from Jules Verne, but the majority of the characters and situations are invented by Zeman himself." - Variety. THE JESTER'S TALE (BLAZNOVA KRONIKA) - 1964, 80 min. One of Zeman's most rarely-seen films, the ironic, surreal THE JESTER'S TALE follows the adventures of a cowardly buffoon and his companion, a battle-scarred mercenary, as they struggle to survive the idiocy of generals and the terrible clash of colliding armies.


Sunday, February 18 - 5:00 PM Los Angeles Premiere!

THE THOUSAND & ONE NIGHTS (POHADKY TISICE A JEDNE NOCI) - approx. 75 min. total. Between 1971 and 1974, Zeman directed a series of shorts for children about the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor, told in exquisitely simple, multi-colored cut-out animation that resembles the jungle fantasies of painter Henri Rousseau. Filled with typically whimsical Zeman touches - a parrot who walks on stilts, a sack that spews an endless mountain of gold coins - these episodes contain some of Zeman's finest work as storyteller and animator. This program features five of the chapters from 1001 NIGHTS, including "The Magnetic Mountain" (Magnetova hora), "The Sultan Of The Sea" (Morsky sultan) and more.


Sunday, February 18 - 6:45 PM Los Angeles Premieres! - Zeman's Final Films!!

KRABAT - THE SORCERER'S APPRENTICE (CARODEJUV UCEN) - 1977, 90 min. Inspired by an Eastern European folktale, KRABAT was written and directed by Zeman, and designed with the assistance of his daughter Ludmila, a noted illustrator of children's books. In KRABAT, a young boy becomes apprenticed to a notorious sorcerer - but when the magician tries to come between the boy and his girlfriend, the young people organize a revolt pitting true love against wizardry. THE TALE OF JOHN & MARY (POHADKA O HONZIKOVI A MARENCE) - 1980, 66 min. Dir. Karel Zeman. Zeman's final feature is also one of his most visually ravishing -- inspired by the design of medieval illuminated manuscripts, THE TALE OF JOHN & MARY follows a young boy's adventures with three gnomes (one good, one bad, and one mad).