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“This was a great lesson in tolerance for me”

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Veronika Lišková • Director


- Cineuropa talked to Veronika Lišková, the director of Daniel's World, about her documentary, on the occasion of its screening at the Berlinale

Veronika Lišková  • Director

After a successful premiere at the Jihlava International Documentary Film Festival, where it received the Audience Award, the documentary Daniel's World [+see also:
interview: Veronika Lišková
film profile
by Veronika Lišková, which is about coping with paedophilia, appeared in the prestigious Panorama section at the Berlinale last week. This represented a major success, given that the last time a Czech film appeared at Berlin was in 2010 (Jan Hřebejk's feature Kawasaki’s Rose [+see also:
film review
film profile
). On 19 February, the movie, which was supported by the Institute of Documentary Film, will officially reach Czech cinemas. Cineuropa took the opportunity of the festival to have a chat with the director.

(The article continues below - Commercial information)

Cineuropa: The preparatory phase and pre-production of Daniel's World took almost a whole year. Was the main source of information for you the website of the Czech and Slovakian paedophile community?
Veronika Lišková:
The primary sources of information for me were the confessions of individual paedophiles that I had found on the internet, as well as consultations with sexologists and experts on the problematics. The website you mentioned helped me to get in touch with the community, and it also enabled me to follow the various members' forums and learn what issues they currently talk about. The pre-production phase was therefore further prolonged owing to the search for the main protagonist and the closure of the basic budget, rather than due to the initial research.

It is obvious that you did not want to put too much general information into your movie and instead intended to talk about paedophilia through the story of the main character. Nevertheless, were you not tempted to point out that sometimes devoted sports coaches, artists, scout-group leaders or other people in charge of leisure activities for children can be paedophiles?
Of course I was tempted to do that – even the paedophiles themselves often mention a number of historical figures. We even talked about some of these men during the shoot with one of the members of the community, but it was precisely that type of information that had to be cut from the footage. Aside from that, I wanted Daniel and his friends to stand up for themselves in this movie and not have to lean on some socially accepted authorities whose sexual orientation we can only speculate about today.

The protagonist of the film, the young writer Daniel, has never hurt a child and, like most of his friends from the paedophile community, he can suppress his urges and keep his feelings towards children on a platonic level. Why is it so difficult, even in today’s “tolerant” times, to get this message across to the wider public? Shouldn’t the state play a more active role in this, or maybe the Ministry of Education?
It is, I dare say, mainly because of the media bias and a simplified label. As long as the media depict each delinquent and child abuser automatically as a “paedophile”, it is understandable that the majority of people will not have a chance to get to other sources of information. People cannot learn, within the informational mainstream, that most of the real paedophiles never abuse anyone. Children are far more often abused by people who are sexually “straight” but have some character flaw or other. The real risk goes hand in hand with this lack of information – the parents are not able to judge who can hurt their children and who is “safe”. I am afraid that even children themselves are still educated in this way – “Do not talk to men who offer you sweets in front of your school.” The fact that they can be hurt by their own relative often stays hidden from them. And what about the idea that if they find out during their adolescent years that they are attracted to someone much younger, it is not a reason to commit suicide? That thought is not discussed with them at all.

The shooting of this documentary has contributed to the protagonist’s “personal development, clarification of his priorities in life and making peace with his own identity, not only the sexual ones.” What has it brought to you, personally?
First of all, it was a great lesson in tolerance for me and also a wake-up call concerning how people can have such limited information, despite the world of open information access we live in. Also, the shoot enabled me to meet many people who are extraordinarily strong – they were able to cope with their naturally complicated sexual orientation and put a lot of effort into being able to stop themselves from crossing boundaries.

Your film opens up an important debate and helps to spread information both to the public and to the community of people who are trying to learn to live with their paedophilia. The film has its own Facebook profile, but do you have any other plans for promoting the topic apart from festival screenings?
The film is co-produced by Czech TV – we believe that if it decides to include it in its programming, the documentary will get a chance to address a different audience from that of the festivals. Apart from that, we definitely plan to put the documentary on a VoD platform to make it available for streaming. Although it is not primarily educative, we will make an effort to enable it to screen at schools, professional conferences and therapeutic centres, or directly within paedophile communities in the Czech Republic and abroad.

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