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Juraj Lehotský • Director

“Both approaches, fiction and documentary, overlap in my works”

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- KARLOVY VARY 2017: Cineuropa sat down with Slovak director Juraj Lehotský to talk about his new effort, Nina, fiction-documentary filmmaking and using a child's point of view in the narrative

Juraj Lehotský • Director

Slovakian director Juraj Lehotský unveiled Nina [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Juraj Lehotský
film profile
]
, his follow-up to Miracle [+see also:
film review
trailer
festival scope
film profile
]
, in the East of the West competition at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. Cineuropa sat down with him to talk about fiction-documentary filmmaking and using a child’s point of view in the narrative.

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Cineuropa: Several of your colleagues and peers with a background in documentary have switched to fiction filmmaking. What was your motivation?
Juraj Lehotský
: I wanted to make Blind Loves [+see also:
trailer
film profile
]
in a different form and to distance it from the standard method of talking heads, so I tried to craft a story from observed retellings that we worked into a narrative, where the protagonists could live those lives, similarly to fiction features. That was the form where I started to make the shift towards fiction filmmaking. I enjoy creating new worlds and new characters; I try to give them a life, and you can only find that in fiction filmmaking. Mind you, it’s true that I am still close to documentary filmmaking, since I tend to do a lot of observations before crafting a story, and I always try to find and cast people from real life in leading roles. Both approaches, fiction and documentary, overlap in my works.

Iveta Grófová made Little Harbour [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Iveta Grófová
film profile
]
from a child’s perspective recently, as have you. Why did you opt for a childs point of view?
Marek Leščák
and I came up with this topic about a child who becomes a hostage in her family, caught between parents that live life entirely for themselves – they are egotistical and hurt each other. My intention was to film a kind of immersion in this situation, this state or phase of life of the child, and we attempted to find out how the child would behave in such a situation, how she would perceive it, and what we could be overlooking as adults. The topic also has motifs of forgiveness, and I try to avoid moralising in favour of offering a story where the viewer can contemplate whether we can forgive and how we can abandon negative emotions and start afresh. The film has two parts: one is about the child’s feelings, while the other tries to hold a mirror up to parents who can easily overlook the nuances of a child’s perception of the situation in hard times like this.

A kind of intertextual link can be found in your films Blind Loves, Miracle and Nina. Was it your intention to create a sort of loose triptych or trilogy?
It is true that they all share something, which is a person’s development. To a certain degree, all of my films reflect moments in my life or what I am going through: in Blind Loves it was the moment of falling in love, in Miracle it was about the birth of a child, and Nina is not so much about a child as it is about parents, and realising what is the most precious thing in life and how it can slip away so easily.

Why is documentary-style camerawork important for you?
The camera follows the protagonist, Nina, and I sensed that it needed a spontaneous, handheld cam. I also knew that the environments where the story is set had to be authentic. I believe the camera also has its own distinctive aesthetics, even though I am not a big fan of stylisation in this kind of film. I personally do not like to feel any kind of exhibitionism or mannerism from behind the camera, because it distracts us from the essence of the movie.

Nina was originally Erik. Why did the sex change occur?
Correct; she was originally going to be a boy. We finished the script, and Marek Leščák came up with the idea of changing the gender of the protagonist. I took a minute to process it and then decided it was a good idea. I thought the story could be more fragile, and a female loner in a family could be a more distinctive, powerful and distressed element than a boy. We found a girl swimmer more original, not so much of a cliché. The change brought the script into a whole new light. Of course we had to do some rewrites, but some of the boy’s features matched up interestingly with the new heroine.

What was the casting of the lead character like?
I was surprised to find Bibiana Nováková through a casting company, as they usually only offer the type of children ideal for adverts or fairy tales. And we were actually under time pressure; deciding whether or not we would even start shooting was conditioned by whether we found the girl. Then I saw Bibiana, and during the casting session, I sensed she could understand me, even though she was overacting a bit. After a couple of days, we discovered that she was a good choice because she was selfless, she had good endurance and she enjoyed the work. I hope viewers will appreciate her performance as much as I do.

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