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10 Directors to Watch: Czech Ad Helmer Slavek Horak Tackles Sensitive ‘Home Care’

Czech commercials director graduates to features with Oscar-submitted 'Home Care.'

10 Directors to Watch
Portrait: Courtesy of Slavek Horak

First-time feature helmer-writer-producer Slavek Horak represents the Czech Republic in the foreign-language Oscar race with the wryly humorous “Home Care.” A critical and popular success at the domestic box office, the pic offers a fresh, poignant spin on the great traditions of Czech cinema and earned leading lady Alena Mihulova actress honors at Karlovy Vary, Eastern Europe’s most prestigious film fest.

When the ebullient Horak was just starting out, he served as second assistant director on Jan Sverak’s 1996 Oscar winner, “Kolya.” In the years since, he forged a successful career in advertising, earning awards for his work directing commercials, though Horak never lost sight of his feature film ambitions.“I was waiting until I was ready and mature enough to create something significant,” he jokes. “The main thing I learned directing commercials is not to make films this way, so with ‘Home Care’ everything was the polar opposite — all substance, no gloss.”

“Home Care” embeds a big topic — accepting mortality — into a personal and entertaining narrative, notable for its authenticity and emotional honesty. Horak’s script, full of piquant observation, attracted some of his country’s finest actors, which in turn showed him “how crucial it is casting the people who at their heart actually are the characters they portray,” he says. “If the actors feel the characters deep inside them, it is such a joyful process to direct them.”

“Home Care” earned comparisons to the films of Horak’s compatriots Milos Forman and Jiri Menzel. And like Forman, Horak is interested in working internationally. He says, “I want to do my next film in the U.S. I crave the excitement of telling a story to worldwide audiences. There could be a place for me, merging my specific sensibility and humor with an awareness of American storytelling traditions.”

Age: 40
Influences: 1960s Czech New Wave, Woody Allen, Alexander Payne
Agency: N/A