Long-time Czech National Film Archive director sacked
by Viktor Palak
24/11/2011 - Vladimir Opela (pictured), who has led the Czech National Film Archive since 1992, has been given his marching orders by the Czech Culture Minister Jiri Besser. In an extensive press release, which the ministry published 11 days after Opela was silently fired, “crucial and recurring managerial errors” are named as a reason, while his “credit and expertness” are also highlighted.
The errors are linked with several inaccurately formulated contracts which enabled the National Film Archive (NFA) to pay out approx 3,5 million Czech crowns (€140,000) to a private subject. In 2008 the Ministry has launched a project for a new residency of the 1943-founded NFA and now blames its management for little or no progress in the matter which has supposedly been caused by the wrongly formulated contracts.
Before the official reasons were made public, Czech media speculated that the decision to fire Opela despite his plan to quit at the end of 2011 may be motivated by his refusal to agree with the narrowing of criteria for the project, which would give preferential treatment to particular construction companies. Documentary filmmaker Vit Janecek argues that Opela's name could be used as “a unit of incorruptibility”, while the Association of Directors and Screenwriters publicly protested against the decision to fire Opela just six weeks before his planned retirement.
The most significant enterprises of the NFA in recent years have been an extensive 6-volume encyclopedia Czech Feature Films as well as participating in a digital restoration of Marketa Lazarova, which is widely regarded the best Czech film of all time. The restored copy premiered at the Karlovy Vary IFF this year and is now circulating Czech arthouse cinemas, with a DVD and Blu-ray distribution planned. NFA also publishes the academic quarterly journal Iluminace, edited by major Czech scholar Petr Szczepanik. The magazine is now preparing a special dossier on Opela's work, where his colleagues from The International Federation of Film Archives comment on his achievements.
First Deputy Minister Frantisek Mikes is temporarily heading the institution, with a selection procedure for the new director, who should be appointed at the beginning of next year, currently under way. According to the NFA's web site, 72-year old Opela will continue to work at the archive as a curator.