"Our well-being is better than that of our parents, but we do not appreciate it"
by Martin Kudláč
- BERLIN 2015: Cineuropa spoke to Slovakian producer and director Ivan Ostrochovský, who debuted his fiction feature, Koza, at the Berlinale
Slovakian producer and documentarian Ivan Ostrochovský has ventured into fiction territory with his latest outing, Koza [+see also:
interview: Ivan Ostrochovský
film profile]. The Slovak-Czech co-production was nominated for the Berlinale's Best First Feature Award by festival director Dieter Kosslick. Cineuropa had a chat with the filmmaker.
Cineuropa: Several Slovakian documentarians have made fiction features recently. Why do you think this has happened?
Ivan Ostrochovský: I don’t like to speculate, and I think that anybody who has seen the films of Jaro Vojtek and Juraj Lehotský will understand that they both contained staged elements, so it was only a matter of time as to when these aspects would go beyond the level of documentary in order not to be simply considered a documentary. Moreover, they just wanted to try something new. I guess we were all driven a little by Lehotský and his film, just as we were once driven by Peter Kerekes and his 66 seasons. But I do not wish to speak for the others.
Was it a big difference for you, switching from the documentary mode of filmmaking to fiction?
Well, the difference is, for example, that I have never been physically sick because of nerves while working on a documentary, but I was during Koza. It was a totally different kind of work for me. You use the same tools, yet think completely differently. For me, the experience was a great education and entailed a lot of suffering. I prefer to shoot documentary observation, where I try not to get noticed by the people in front of the camera. I do not like to talk too much; rather, I observe. You have to explain and control everything while making a fiction feature, and that’s a big responsibility and also entails a lot of pressure in terms of the money invested in it. Fortunately, I was surrounded by skilful and experienced people who helped me a lot, particularly Marek Leščák and my cameraman, Martin Kollár. Martin Šulík and Peter Kerekes advised me while I was finishing off the final version of the film.
Besides a biographical dimension, Koza has a social one as well. As in the acclaimed My Dog Killer [+see also:
film profile] and The Way Out [+see also:
interview: Petr Václav
film profile], a Roma protagonist is also at the heart of Koza. Was this also one of the reasons why you decided to approach the topic?
I was not intending to make the movie on Peter Baláž as a film focusing on a Roma theme. It is the story of a man on the fringes of society, struggling to solve his problems. He could easily be non-Roma. Furthermore, Ján Franek, who won a medal in 1980 at the Olympic Games in Moscow, co-stars in the film, and his social situation is just as critical as Peter’s. We focused on specifics in Peter’s life that anybody can experience, and I chose Peter as the protagonist because I have known him personally for years and wanted to make a film about him. And I can’t pinpoint which theme is the most urgent one. Above all, I believe Europe is going through a prosperous period compared to the last 100 years, in spite of all the depressing films. World War I, the Great Depression, World War II, fascism, communism... The most urgent theme for me is that our well-being is much better than that of our parents and grandparents, but we do not appreciate it enough. And films like Koza are only a reminder that everything could be completely different.
Why did you decide that Peter Baláž would play himself?
Baláž plays himself because Marek Leščák and I could not imagine any Slovak actor taking on the role. There are non-professional actors in the film, but they don’t play themselves, apart from Miša, Peter’s partner, who is played by his real-life partner. Peter rose to the occasion, as any other non-professional actor would have been complicated. We gradually simplified his lines until he started to understand what we needed from him. And Ján Franek, who plays Peter’s trainer, really shines in the film; he is a born actor, and can breathe life and dynamics into every scene he appears in.
Are you currently working on any other projects?
As an author, I am working on two new projects: a documentary called The Censors, with Peter Kerekes, which is about the humorous manifestations of censorship around the world. We are simultaneously developing a fiction feature with Marek Leščák about a member of the secret police in a priest’s seminary in the 1980s. I am also finishing a film on the Hlinka Guard with Palo Pekarčík. As a producer, I am helping out Juraj Lehotský with his next feature, Erik, and Zuzana Piussi with her documentary on the Slovakian presidential elections. Jaro Vojtek and I are also trying to develop a feature documentary called Seven Days.