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Czech-American Filmmaker Milos Forman Dies at 86

Filmmaker Milos Forman died on April 14, 2018 after a short illness. He is best known for his 1975 film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Amadeus in 1984, but his career began in his home country of Czechoslovakia.



Forman attended film school in Prague and presented works at multiple international festivals in the 1950s and ‘60s. His film, The Fireman’s Ball, was nominated for Best Foreign Language film, but it wasn’t so appreciated by Czech authorities. He then turned his attention to making American Hollywood films, where his satire would be more welcomed. Cuckoo’s Nest was produced after a brief rough period when he was living in New York after an unsuccessful first film attempt.

Cuckoo’s Nest went on to win all five Academy Awards, the second ever film to do so. It is an adaptation of the 1962 novel by Ken Kesey. It stars Jack Nicholson, who plays a patient in a mental institution who tries to lead the others in a revolt against the dictatorial Nurse Ratched, played by Louise Fletcher.

When Forman won the 2013 Directors Guild of America Lifetime Achievement Award, he shared that for him, the story represents his experience with the Communist Party during his childhood in Czechoslovakia. In his early childhood, he grew up in the midst of the German occupation in Czechoslovakia, during which his mother was seized and killed in the death camps. Decades later, Forman discovered that his biological father, whom he had never known, survived the war and was living in Peru.

In 2013, he said that “The Communist Party was my Nurse Ratched, telling me what I could and could not do; what I was or was not allowed to say; where I was and was not allowed to go; even who I was and was not.” He felt that his connection was why he wanted to direct the film, despite friends warning him against taking on such an American story as an immigrant.

Photo: Forman filming Hair, by John Greco

Photo: Forman filming Hair, by John Greco

After Cuckoo’s Nest, he directed Hair in 1979 and Ragtime in 1981. Amadeus in 1984 won him another Oscar for Best Director and seven other Oscars, including Best Picture. Since then, he has directed several other movies, continuing to tell the stories of outliers in society and humanizing them with films full of sensitivity and humor.