Milena Jelinek

Milena Jelinek (Czech: Milena Jelínková, née Tobolová; August 19, 1935 – April 15, 2020) was a Czech American screenwriter, playwright and teacher. She wrote the screenplay for the film Forgotten Light, which was awarded three Czech Lions in 1997. Her name is associated with the golden generation of Czech filmmakers, known as Czech New Wave.[1] She was married to the late researcher Frederick Jelinek.[2]

Milena Jelinek
Native name
Milena Jelínková
(1935-08-19)August 19, 1935
DiedApril 15, 2020(2020-04-15) (aged 84)
New York
OccupationScreenwriter, playwright and teacher
EducationFilm and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague
Literary movementCzech New Wave
Notable worksForgotten Light
Notable awardsThree Czech Lions
SpouseFrederick Jelinek


Jelinek was born on 19 August 1935 in Prestice, near Pilsen.[3][4] From 1955, she studied at the Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts in Prague.[5] The film director Ivan Passer was one of her classmates, and the writer Milan Kundera was her literature teacher.[5] One of her early screenplays, written under her maiden name and titled Snadný život (An Easy Life), was filmed by Miloš Makovec and Jiří Brdečka. Already during her studies, she took part in various anti-communist protests. According to her own words, the Czechoslovak president Antonín Novotný in a speech against "unreliable writers" even listed her name as a "subversive person".[5]

Frederick Jelinek emigrated from Czechoslovakia to the United States in 1949, however, in 1957 he visited Vienna as a participant of a professional conference.[1][6] During his stay, he decided to visit his old friends in Prague.[1] He met and befriended Milena Tobolová during a meeting with the film director Miloš Forman in a Prague café.[5] Gradually, they became close and eventually they decided to marry. However, their application for marriage was denied on several occasions by communist authorities. In 1960, Frederick Jelinek was proclaimed "persona non grata" in Czechoslovakia and his planned visits were banned permanently.[5] Coincidentally, the same year Tobolová received permission by the government to leave the country. Her son William Jelinek later claimed: "As an inaugural gift to Kennedy, the Czechs released nine dissidents and one of them was my mother".[6] In January, 1961, she left for the US and shortly after that she married Jelinek.[5][7]

In the US, she gradually managed to find a place in the world of film, mainly thanks to another émigré, filmmaker František Daniel. She already knew him from the school in Prague, and met him again at the American Film Institute in Los Angeles.[5] In 1980, she joined him and began teaching screenwriting at the Columbia University in New York.[1][2] At the University, she spent a major part of her professional career.

She is the author of the script for the play Adina, staged in 2007 in the Vinohrady Theatre, Prague.[8] The play depicts the life story of the renowned Czech pre-War actor Adina Mandlová.

Jelinek also wrote the libretto for the opera Kafka's Women by Czech composer Jiří Kadeřábek, first staged at the Cell Theater in New York City in 2013.[9]

For the screenplay for the film Zapomenuté světlo (Forgotten Light), she found an inspiration in a short story by the Czech Catholic priest and writer Jakub Deml.[5] Forgotten Light received seven Czech Lion nominations, including one for Best Screenplay, however, the Czech Film and Television Academy awarded the film three Lions for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Sound.[10]

She died in New York on 15 April 2020 of complications from COVID-19, aged 84.[11]


  1. ^ a b c d Willoughby, Ian (2008-06-09). "Milena Jelinek – member of golden generation of Czech filmmakers now teaching screenwriting at Columbia". Radio Prague. Czech Radio. Retrieved 19 December 2010.
  2. ^ a b Lohr, Steve (24 September 2010). "Frederick Jelinek, Who Gave Machines the Key to Human Speech, Dies at 77". The New York Times. p. 10. Retrieved 19 December 2010.
  3. ^ "Milena Jelínková". Větrné mlýny (in Czech). Retrieved 19 December 2010.
  4. ^ "Milena Jelinek". Memory of Nations. Retrieved 16 April 2020.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h Soprová, Jana (2007-12-14). "Psala jsem o okouzlující vlčici, která se vzepřela" (in Czech). Divadelní noviny. Archived from the original on 21 August 2009. Retrieved 19 December 2010.
  6. ^ a b Dresser, Michael (2010-09-19). "Frederick Jelinek, speech recognition pioneer, dies". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 19 December 2010.
  7. ^ Hrdinová, Radmila (2007-11-10). "Milena Jelínková: Adinu Mandlovou mi přiblížila emigrace". (in Czech). originally Právo. Retrieved 19 December 2010.
  8. ^ Hrbotický, Saša (2007-11-27). "Osud Adiny zrcadlí národní traumata". HN.IHNED.CZ - kultura (in Czech). Hospodářské noviny. Retrieved 19 December 2010.
  9. ^ Jiří Kadeřábek: An Insight into the Opera KAFKA'S WOMEN (NYC, 2013), retrieved 2020-04-17
  10. ^ "Zapomenuté světlo" (in Czech). Česká televize (Czech Television). Retrieved 23 December 2010.
  11. ^ "Na covid-19 zemřela scenáristka Jelinek. Emigrovala jako "dar" Kennedymu" (in Czech). iDNES.

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