Thank you Jiri Bartoska, Krystof Mucha, Karel Och.
I am honored to be here to help celebrate the life and career of Milos Forman, a man I had the honor to meet, whose influence on world cinema was profound and meaningful. It was a dream come true to sit in the same room with Mr. Forman. I was a huge fan of his work. He was trying to put together a film he wanted to direct and for me to be in. I remember his dismay when we met. He had just arrived in NY from LA where he had had a meeting with the studio. “The studio showed me a poster of the film I had not yet cast. They want a poster not a piece of art.” Fuck them.” Needless to say, Milos walked off the project, the film never happened and I wound out with an even deeper admiration and love for Milos Forman. He was an artist first. He was not interested in compromising his art for profit. I found his integrity truly inspiring and used it as a touchstone in my own career.
I also had the honor to have dinner with Vaclav Havel after a Tom Waits concert in Prague in 2009. I was not only impressed with his humanity, intelligence and humor but was kind of blown away by the idea that the Czech Republic had elected a playwright as its leader. But theater always has had an importance in this country, from the visionary work of Karel Capek to the crucial part that Havel and the theater workers played in the Velvet Revolution.
So, here in this moment what is there to say? We are in a time that is in reverse. We were moving forward and now we are facing the past. It reminds me of a movie I auditioned for 33 years ago. In 1985 I was a young actor looking for a break. I was playing one-off criminals in detective shows on television, the psycho, the punk, the rebellious rich kid, you’ve seen the shows, the reiterated morality play, the constant reminder of good guys and bad guys repeated ad nauseum on our modern Roman forum, our philosophical guide to technological progress; our television sets. So I was bored with the parts I was playing and wanted that big movie role and this guy Robert Zemeckis was directing a movie called Back to the Future and I auditioned for the role of Bif, the arrogant, childish bully, the petulant overgrown child monster. I got close, but didn’t get the role. I could have been Bif, but I wasn’t. So why have I been thinking about it?
Back to the Future was set in the 1980s and due to advanced technology, a DeLorean car that could time travel brought our lead character, Marty McFly back in time to the 1950s. And what Marty found back in the 1950s wasn’t a romantic, nostalgic time, but an Oedipal nightmare, a time of bullying, intolerance and ignorance. And this was a Hollywood big time movie so Marty McFly didn’t visit the 1950s of segregation and racism and rancid politicians accusing artists of being Un-American. No. This was pretty tame in it’s depiction of what 1950s America was.
So why have I been thinking of this movie? Well it occurred to me the other day that we are living through a Marty McFly moment. Somehow despite our great advancement of recent years, despite out movements away from intolerance and fascism and autocratic Communists and xenophobia, despite our movements toward freedom and liberation and tolerance, we have somehow, ironically through the cynical use and manipulation of advancements in technology (now not a Delorean car but in a device we can hold in our hand), we have travelled back in time, we have not gone Back to the Future. We have gone back to the 1950s. Somehow we have, through the freedom of our votes, willingly chosen to go backwards towards a world full of ignorance and distrust fueled by intolerance. Was this a natural descent? Is this the cyclical nature of man? Or are we willful puppets of propaganda that appeals to our spiritual weakness and our jealousy of others?
The strong have always tried to stay in power by dividing the weak. Bullies have no power without fear. So, at this moment, this Marty McFly moment, it seems like we storytellers, we citizens, we bakers and butchers and artisans and convenience store workers, we nurses and longshoreman, we singers and writers and construction workers have to figure out how to get back to the future, fix this broken DeLorean and get back to the world of progress promised by revolutionaries like Martin Luther King and Vaclac Havel and Nelson Mandela. But this is not a shift that will happen on your television or your cell phones. That ship has sailed. Those that are happy about this trip back to the 50s have already controlled the programming and algorithms that delivered us to the man in the White House separating children from their parents and giving gigantic tax breaks to the wealthy. No, this new revolution must come from our hearts, those miracles in our chests that speak truth in every contraction. Our hearts must lead us and that’s where art enters the picture. Now is an important moment, because at this time when stories that shake us up, that challenge the way things are, stories that eviscerate the powerful are most needed, it is incredibly difficult to raise money to tell these stories. So that is why it is absolutely essential for our culture that film festivals like Karlovy Vary exist. It is a moment to see films that have not yet been vetted through the Marvel Universe / reality TV pornography deemed appropriate for the proles to see.
We are in one of those special places in the world where we can still see an unbridled expression, an unfiltered, uncensored version and reflection of the world we are living in. So let’s celebrate this moment tonight. And let us celebrate that whether the films we see here at this festival are blockbusters or not is irrelevant. That the spirit of freedom, the spirit of rebellion, of revolution can never be and never will be contained in a blockbuster. That spirit is a flame in our hearts and we as artists must be committed to that flame and not fame. That flame of freedom that told stories in small theaters in Prague in 1989, stories heard by way less people than Back to the Future, yet stories that ignited the flames of revolution in the hearts of those artists and audiences. Never underestimate the power of a good story to transform lives.
Let’s all remember in this time, when the wealthy and powerful are profiting from our divisiveness and fear, that it is our job as artists and citizens to keep that flame of freedom lit and to fight with all our talent and wit and love and persistence to Resist Resist Resist the child bullies, the petulant Bifs in the White House and their bully posses of despots throughout the world and perhaps quite close to us here tonight.
And while we resist this Back to the 1950s moment let us make sure to remind those that have been fooled into this regressive nostalgic fascism that they are our brothers and our sisters and that we all have hearts with flames afire and their hearts aren’t sick or wrong, they’re just in need of relief and love and a great song, a beautiful painting and an inspirational moment in Prague in a small theater where the world can transform again.
Once again thank you for this honor. I am humbled by your attention to me and I accept this with a promise to hold Bif accountable, to stand up to bullies and to do so with humor and art and rock solid determination and unrelenting optimism.