The Language of Film Can Approximate Free Verse

The successful and globally recognised Czechoslovak New Wave was launched in 1962 by Štefan Uher’s Slnko v sieti (The Sun in a Net), on which you worked as an assistant director. At the time, did you anticipate that Slnko v sieti would be the start of something new? Yes, we very much wanted it to be, Uher, Szomolányi, Zeljenka, Krajčovič and naturally me as well. But at the time this was all mere conjecture; after all, I had only just begun. Where did this come from, this sudden passion of young directors to create something different and differently? Our times didn’t favour the depiction of real life; they demanded billboard optimism. That didn’t sit well with us. In the name of accurate representation of the world, we fought a great number of quixotic battles for truth. At times we hit a brick wall, but as filmmakers we were far from alone. The entire culture was single-mindedly rushing towards open windows; they were dying for fresh air. Writers, artists, musicians, theatre folk. This surge caused the straitjacket of ideological directives to burst. As you see it, what set the films of the 1960s apart from their predecessors? On one hand it was their content and striving towards truth, but also their form; they introduced a new poetics marked by imaginative metaphor, free from stiff, histrionic modes of expression. At the time when your associates from the Czechoslovak New Wave were making efforts to cast non-actors in their pictures, you opted for well-known performers in your film Drak sa vracia (The Return of Dragon, 1967). Why? I myself had already cast my first two films with non-actors, but Drak demanded the portrayal of inner turmoil, and that is something non-actors cannot manage. When they are in their element, they are incomparable, but they cannot pull off psychological nuances. It was my first film with professional actors, and for me it was a refreshing novelty. Lyricised prose is in itself a demanding literary form; did you run into problems transferring the poetic descriptions of Chrobák’s novel to the cinematic medium? It was a most formidable task, one which I stood before humbly, for works of lyricised prose moved me as a reader to nearly the same extent as poetry. And my artistic ambition was to match the magnificence of Dobroslav Chrobák’s text with the language of film. It took great courage on my part, even recklessness, but I needed to confirm my own thesis – that the language of film can approximate free verse. Today the festival’s visitors will have the chance to see Martin Šulík’s new two-part documentary 25 From the Sixties or the Czechoslovak New Wave, a film that delineates a major and, for Slovak cinematography, successful cinematic era. Do you think the appearance of such a documentary is opportune in this day and age of rapidly accessible information? What do you see as its function? I stand in awe before documentary film; I see it as the very core of cinema. Indeed, the absolute majority of young filmmakers were brought up on documentaries. But I come from more of a literary and artistic background; I don’t presume to make documentaries. The young Slovak documentary of today foretells a major wave of new cinema, a new, strong generation, strong not only in their talent but also in the admirable energy with which they overcome the obstacles of capitalism. I have my fingers crossed for them, those devotees of film as art. I root for them in their struggle against society’s inhospitableness.  One of Martin Šulík’s aims is to include the picture in film (media) curricula at schools. The statements of filmmakers from various cinematic trades virtually guarantee this. Do you believe that we can educate today’s youth through film? That cinema could be beneficial at the pedagogical level as well? Cinema long ago won the battle for equal footing with other (traditional) spheres of art. But that is something our school curricula don’t address, often under the influence of the film business’s tabloid underbelly whose sentiments devalue genuine great art. In the end, only time will tell. To conclude, a bit of a tricky question, given that at the time of our interview the 2010 Art Film Fest hasn’t yet begun – have you already decided which pictures you’d like to see, or are you more the type to stroll about this quaint spa town, meet with friends and soak up the film festival atmosphere?  I like to go for walks in the mountains; while the spas do complement them, they are too hectic for my temperament. They distract one from the meditation that inspiration requires; but the truth is that the soul feeds on more than meditation. It needs relaxation as well.   Nina Šilanová