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Jiri Weiss

Czech cinema director

Jiri Weiss, one of the foremost figures in postwar Czech cinema, died April 9 in Santa Monica, Calif. He was 91.

Weiss wrote and directed some 20 feature films, many of which won international awards. Since 1973, he lived in the United States, where he wrote screenplays, stage plays, fiction and memoirs. He taught cinema at Hunter College in New York and at UC Santa Barbara.

At the beginning of the 1990s, Weiss directed French-German film , “Martha and I,” starring Michel Piccoli and Marianne Saegebrecht, which won the Audience Prize at the San Francisco Film Festival.

During the ’50s, Jiri Weiss was one of Czechoslovakia’s most highly regarded filmmakers. A native of Prague, he was born into the German-speaking Jewish community but declared himself a Czech patriot and planted his flag in the Czech cinema.

After studying law at Charles U., he began making documentaries in 1936. His debut, “People in the Sun” earned an award for amateur documentary at that year’s Venice Film Festival. When the Nazis invaded in 1939, Weiss fled to London, where he made such films as “The Rape of Czechoslovakia” and “Before the Raid.”

Following the war, Weiss returned to Czechoslovakia to make prizewinning films including “The Wolf Trap”; “Romeo, Juliet and Darkness,” a tragic love story about a Czech boy harboring a Jewish girl in Prague during World War II; “Ninety Degrees in the Shade”; and “Murder Czech Style,” his only comedy.

When the Soviets invaded his country in 1968, Weiss fled again, to Rome, then England, finally settling in the United States. His uncompromising personal and artistic style made it difficult for him to extend his prominence into commercial cinema.

In his last years, Weiss wrote and saw produced two stage plays, “The Jewish War” and “Berenice.” A volume of memoirs, “The White Mercedes,” was published in Czech.

He is survived by wife Katerina, a daughter, a son and three grandchildren.

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