Czech-born Milos Stehlik, an award-winning film critic and commentator for National Public Radio station WBEZ and the film curator, founder and artistic director of the pioneering media arts center Facets Multimedia in Chicago, died Saturday of cancer.
Stehlik founded Facets in 1975, screening hard-to-find international and independent films in a Chicago Lutheran church. When the non-profit organization found a permanent home on Fullerton Avenue in 1977, Stehlik branched into video distribution, eventually offering thousands of otherwise unobtainable titles for sale and rental, both over the counter and by mail. As viewing formats changed, so did the Facets catalogue, moving into dvds and streaming.
Titles that Facets first made available in the U.S. or released on its private label included Krzysztof Kieslowski’s “Decalogue,” Bela Tarr’s “Satantango,” Milos Forman’s “Black Peter,” Forough Farrokhzad’s “The House Is Black,” Frantisek Vlácil’s “Adelheid,” and collections of experimentalists such as the American James Broughton, the German Heinz Emigholz and the UK architect-turned-filmmaker Patrick Keiller. Over the years, devoted Facets customers included such bold-face names as Martin Scorsese, Stephen Sondheim and Cher, as well as hundreds of university and public libraries. In a 1998 New York Times article, Roger Ebert opined, “If you can’t find it at Facets, chances are you can’t find it. He’s [Stehlik] really making a difference, on a national, even a worldwide, level.”
It was important to Stehlik to be able to introduce films from his native country, which were unknown in America. Only in the last decade or so has the Czech New Wave been regularly included and assessed in film history texts. And Facets made it possible for scholars and film teachers to see many of the New Wave titles, and to give them the recognition they deserved.
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In 1983, Stehlik and his colleague Nicole Drieske launched the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival. Now the largest kids fest in the U.S., it will celebrate its 36th anniversary in October and is celebrated world-wide for its programs that expand media literacy for children, adults and educators.
An articulate and passionate advocate for international and independent cinema and media education, the charismatic Stehlik’s opinions were sought by the National Endowment for the Arts Media Program, the MacArthur Foundation and the Ford Foundation, among others. He also served on the board of the Telluride Film Festival, and was board president from 2016 – 2017. Always an informative and entertaining speaker, he was a popular lecturer at the Chicago Arts Club and an in-demand presenter and moderator at international film festivals and humanities events.
Stehlik received many honors throughout his career, among them the Telluride Film Festival Special Medallion for his impact on American and international film culture and an Order of Arts and Letters from the French Minister of Culture.
In addition to publishing the annual Facets catalog, which served as a wish book for cinephiles, Stehlik also co-authored Facets Video Encyclopedia, Movie Lovers Video Guide and Human Rights Film Guide.
He is survived by his wife, Elizabeth Najda. Starting this year, the Telluride Film Festival will annually name one of the 50 university student participants in their Student Symposium program as the Milos Stehlik/Facets Scholar. And, Facets has launched a Milos Stehlik Legacy Fund in his memory.