Milos Stehlik:  His Words, His Legacy


By Judy Carmack Bross


Milos’ legacy? Teaching us that film is the most powerful and at the same time most accessible of all art forms and when in the right hands capable of making all of us better people.                 –Dr. David Edelberg, Past President of Facets on the death of Milos Stehlik on July 6 of lung cancer.

Milos Stehlik was our movie man at Classic Chicago. How blessed we were to be able to run his columns which told us that movies not only entertain but can change lives.

He covered all the great film festivals from Telluride to Karlovy Vary, picked the top films of each year,  and asked: “Who needs the Oscars—and made the argument that we all do. He solved a mystery about a missing silent movie, revealed Studs Terkel’s favorite films, and gave us an insider’s guide to Cannes in May 2018 at what was to be the last of his 30 years of being a lauded presence there.

His columns were filled with insider information:  the great director and pal of Milos Werner Herzog stopping to take a selfie as he emerged from a theater in Telluride with a rainbow behind him hugging a mountain; that the best thing about Cannes was the fresh air vegetable market, the Marche de Forelle; that  Isabelle Huppert was the greatest living actress.

At the end of each story ran the same caption:  “Milos Stehlik is the Founder and Artistic Director of Facets which for over 40 years has harnessed the power of film to change lives and thus change the world.  It hosts year-round educational programs and the Chicago International Children’s Film Festival, the most celebrated children’s film festival in North America.

And that is what Milos did.

We were so proud to cover Facets events and learn more about his passions:  the Children’s Film Festival, the Screen Gems Gala and Boo Bash which raised money for the Festival, Children’s Summer Camp where kids discovered the magic of making movies, and the impact of Milos’s anti-bullying message, delivered numerous time throughout his last year, to young people at schools across Chicago.

Milos wrote his last story for us on January 20, 2019 about Studs Terkel and his favorite films. When we now look back and think it must have been at the  same time he was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer, something he did not mention.

He said of Studs, after revealing two secrets about his friend (that he poured generously and requested space to take 10-minute naps):

“He liked films like The Grapes of Wrath which reflect core beliefs in a society where we are accepted and respect each other, recognizing that everyone has an equal opportunity.”

On May 8  of this year Milos and his beautiful wife Elizabeth, looking always like an Ingmar Bergman leading lady and caring so closely for her husband, attended the Facets Screen Gems Gala.  Although quite gaunt, he delivered with great force a message that might be considered his legacy. Speaking after two young teenagers who showed their film made at Facets, he began by telling a little about himself:

“I grew up in communist Czechoslovakia.  At the age of seven or eight I had no concept that my country, the very people who advocated for truth and freedom, were dying in forced labor camps mining uranium and that terms like “freedom”, “equality” or “peace” could just as easily be slogans.

“In today’s world, in which the average child spends more than seven hours a day engaged with digital images, watching, in the course of childhood, more than 16,000 murders, every year spending more than 2000 hours a year before a screen and fewer than 800 hours in a classroom, the risk and the challenge is ever greater.  This is a monster. 

“In our 44 years, we at Facets have worked to help reveal that monster’s face.”

“Facets is committed to empowering the new generation. We are at the vanguard in guiding kids toward understanding others, resolving conflict peacefully, and celebrating differences. We teach kids to shoot digital video, not guns.  It’s not enough to teach kids to code.  Just as important is to teach students to be compassionate, caring human beings, full-fledged citizens committed to saving the planet.”

David Edelberg visited Milos and Elizabeth twice a day throughout his illness and David shared for us some memories of Milos.

“Milos and I met regularly, almost weekly when we could do so, on Friday afternoons at Lincoln Inn, a sticky floored bar that had good bar food. Milos really liked their French fries and ordered a double portion and then ate most of mine.

“We’d start by asking each other what we happened to be reading at the time. Each of us generally read about three or more books simultaneously, so this could get to be quite involved.

“He liked to talk about the power of Art with a capital ‘A’ and its effect on our growth as human beings. 

“We are all better off listening to good music, visiting museums, reading great literature. But his main point was that through film, ‘art’ could reach everyone.

“Let’s face facts,” he’d say something like this: “Chicago’s large and traditional art institutions are all great if you’re white, middle class and higher, with educated parents who teach you the value of art. But all these are simply unknown to most kids and their parents. But its’ really through film, the narrative moving image, present everywhere–in theaters, on TV, on the internet–that we can spread the power of art. Film is the only art form that has the potential to change the entire world for the better.”

“And yet to Milos the serious supporters of ‘art’ gave mega donations to art forms that they personally enjoyed attending like musical concerts with minimal leavings to organizations like Facets (or grants to independent storefront theaters, artists, and others) or the Children’s International Film Festival. This endlessly troubled him.

“Years ago, when Facets distributed the thick catalog of videotapes that was literally the Bible of film in libraries across the U.S., he’d be really pleased when some small library in the rural Midwest would order videotapes of Shakespeare plays or ask about Ingmar Bergman films. 

“When that market collapsed, and Facets shifted everything to online streaming, he would be really pleased to tell me that the films on Facets Kids or Facets Edge were being watched in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. One of the last things he said during one of these lunches “There are seven and a half billion people on Earth. If only 10,000 of them were Facets members at $10 a month, we can break even financially and keep adding film after film to the Kids site and Facets Edge.”

“Milos legacy can also be found in my two sons, now young men in their thirties, literally born at Facets–each came first to Facets when just a few days old. They participated in all the Facets stuff-film camp, children’s jury, everything. Both majored in the Arts in college, and both are in the arts today, But more important, they are sensitive, politically aware, and good critical thinkers. As you can imagine, they were devastated by Milos’ death.”