Helmer helped set up FAMU film school

PRAGUE — Czech director Otakar Vavra, who built up his oeuvre under Nazi occupation and the communist regime, but was revered as a true original, died in a Prague hospital Thursday, where he was recovering from a neck injury. He was 100.

In addition to forging a distinctive body of compelling work, including 50 films he directed and 80 he wrote, Vavra and cohorts founded FAMU, the Czech Republic’s most respected film school, in 1946.

FAMU, where he also taught until 2008, inspiring such pupils as Milos Forman, Jiri Menzel and Emir Kusturica, remains one of Central Europe’s most prestigious film training academies.

Menzel has said that Vavra was a key figure in driving the development of Czech film.

Vavra first attracted attention with pics like comedy “The Virgins’ Club” in 1938, and 1940’s “Girl in Blue,” which starred Lida Baarova, a Czech starlet whose affair with the married Joseph Goebbels outraged Adolf Hitler.

His films of the ’60s, however, such as 1965’s “Golden Apples” and the sly parable on paranoia and political persecution, “Witch’s Hammer” (1969), form his most prized artistic legacy to critics.

Vavra was awarded the Czech Republic’s highest cultural honor in 2004, the Medal of Merit, by President Vaclav Klaus.

Vavra is survived by his partner, director Jitka Nemcova.

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