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- 14.12.2015 10:20 -

Miroslav Janek: I show my cards to the viewers so they can play with me more easily


As a bonus to the retrospective of films by Miroslav Janek, we are bringing you an interview with the remarkable Czech director (as well as editor and cinematographer). Learn more about how he drives himself out of the editing room, about Citizen Havel, about shooting with children as well as about his new upcoming project.

You say that your themes choose you rather than the other way round. When you look at your retrospective, can you see any prevailing themes that have “chosen you” coming to the foreground?

I don’t see any themes coming to the foreground. Perhaps it’s just that I’m mostly interested in people who are, so to say, on the fringe of the society – a village musician, a blind person, a child from a children’s home, Andrej Krob, Drahomíra Vihanová, Vráťa Brabenec and even Olga. One could also say that I prefer those subjects that give a promise of a certain visual quality.

You have been working as an editor for many years. How do you approach the editing of the films you have directed?
It’s very simple. As an editor, I have been successfully driving directors away from the editing room. Now I drive myself away without much effort. After endless talks with editor Tonička, I delegate all of the material to her and I let her look for new connections and ties yet unrevealed by me, hoping that she will find them. I only enter the editing room when the film shape has been roughly sculpted. However, this active involvement in the editorial process is impossible without a thorough knowledge of the shot material. Before I entrust the material to Tonička’s hands, or rather her mind and soul, I map it carefully, I choose the things I consider substantial and later I gradually “taste” the material, drawing various meaningless and sometimes even meaningful partial ideas on paper.

What was most interesting for you when working with children while making The Unseen or Kha-Chee-Pae? Seeing the world in a new way, from a certain overlooked position?

There is a lot of poetry in children in general; and a lot of energy. In case of children who lack something essential, one can observe with wonder how they compensate their lack in another distinctive and completely original way; which, on the other hand, is lacked by those children who don’t lack anything.

Little City in Space is your earliest and least known film, at least for most viewers. Could you tell us more about it
The film poster says: A Film about Radio Activity. It’s not my earliest film but I guess my earliest documentary. I had made many short feature films before. However, about a year after immigrating to the US, I suddenly felt that my vein of inspiration was strangely blocked. In short, I was unable to write a script for a feature film. What was I to do? At that time, I would listen to a certain local community radio a lot. It had a small budget, limited broadcast band and no commercials, it played a broad range of music genres and all the DJs were volunteers. The spirit of the station enchanted me so much that I decided to transform it to film, although it seemed as complete nonsense to make a film about a radio at first glance. I guess that’s what I loved about it.

Citizen Havel, on the contrary, is your most renowned film. (Although you practically ascribe it fully to Pavel Koutecký). Did the shot material capturing the life of Václav Havel have a certain rhythm you could follow? Or did you only find it when finishing the film?

Due to the constant lack of finances, Pavel Koutecký was given only a few boxes of negative a day (about 20 minutes). He coped with it by forcing the cinematographer Stano Slušný to make short shots. It is probably due to this healthy tension that most of the shots are characterized by certain nervousness. To a certain degree, these two factors have predetermined the overall rhythm of the film. Because of the lack of material, we were even forced to use the same shot even three times in many scenes, naturally in various versions (a mirror image, a slightly different phase of the shot etc.).

In films like Olga or The Gospel according to Brabenec, you are using moments of (confessed) reenactment. Do you do it for fun or do you want to capture a certain symptomatic moment?

I show my cards to the viewers so they can play with me more easily.

Why do you say that you want as little speaking in your films as possible?

Because I still see film as a visual medium, not a radio one. Although I do not underestimate the sound dramaturgy of the film in any way; quite on the contrary. However, if there is to be at least some space for sound dramaturgy, one has to cut the cackle. I really admire those documentaries (and I envy them terribly) in which nothing is said for like ten minutes and yet the viewers are breathless, the poetic suspense and mystery are growing and the screen... I’m speaking too much again.

You are making a new film. What will it be about / like?
The film is called NORMAL AUTISTIC FILM. It will be about autistic people and it will be just normal.

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