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“Film is the best way to occupy oneself with things one does not understand”

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Josef Tuka • Director

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- KARLOVY VARY 2017: Cineuropa chatted to debuting Czech filmmaker Josef Tuka about Absence of Closeness, the subject of the social taboo and working under financial limitations

Josef Tuka  • Director
(© Adéla Leinweberová)

Debuting Czech filmmaker Josef Tuka talked to Cineuropa about his first feature outing, Absence of Closeness [+see also:
film review
trailer
film focus
interview: Josef Tuka
film profile
]
, which revolves around a socially taboo subject, as well as working under financial restrictions. The movie has just screened in East of the West at Karlovy Vary.

Cineuropa: The central topic of Absence of Closeness is motherhood seen through the eyes of the female protagonist and her relationship with her mother and her daughter. How did you approach this exclusively female perspective while writing the script?
Josef Tuka:
 When I was writing the script, I did not attempt to embrace a strictly male or female point of view. I was after a point of view based on empathy and sensitivity. Through this authorial lens, I attempted to tell the story of a mother who does not feel like a mother to her small child.

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What attracted you to this mostly female topic?
You are right, in that audiences and journalists often say that my short films from FAMU are characteristic of a female environment. Personally, I cannot really explain this inclination. In general, I believe film is the best way to occupy oneself with things one does not understand. You can see the topic from various angles during development, shooting and post-production. That may mean that the female world is shrouded in mystery for me, to a degree – how else could you explain that I frequently set my stories in that context?

Is this topic still taboo in society? What reactions are you expecting the film to provoke?
It is certainly a taboo issue despite the fact that, paradoxically, we live in relatively liberal times. I am attracted to the theme because it is taboo. I wanted to highlight a situation that is not discussed publicly and say out loud that motherhood is not automatic, and that sometimes, it is a difficult path that leads to it, as it involves personal self-examination. I hope our film will provoke a discussion. Judging by the feedback we received during our crowdfunding campaign, I believe we can achieve this. I do not want to just sit by with my arms folded. I would like to accompany selected screenings at various events – for example, discussions with representatives of Parentline. Parents can call Parentline if they are dealing with a problem related to their child.

Absence of Closeness originated with the production efforts of Asmara Beraki, of Cinema Belongs To Us. Can you briefly introduce the initiative and how your film fits into its framework?
I approached established producers with the first version of the script. The problem was that they rejected me without having read the script, saying they had a lot of work on with their own projects. When I met Asmara, a peer of mine from FAMU, she said she had the very same experience, and she decided to deal with it by founding her own production company. I gave her the first version of the script, after which we agreed we would realise the project under her newly established company. At that time, I could not have anticipated the three years ahead of us, when we would be unsuccessful in securing financial support from the Czech Film Fund. After the third failed attempt, the situation was clear: either Absence of Closeness died or we persuaded our friends from the school to try to shoot our feature debut in low-budget conditions. Looking back, after our film was picked for East of the West, it looks like it was a fortuitous decision, but nobody could have expected that back then. Back then, it looked like pure foolishness. You can define the concept of Cinema Belongs To Us through the concept of the origins of Absence of Closeness: friendly ties, enthusiasm and a desire for testimony through film.

How did the spartan conditions influence your creative decisions?
The austere conditions certainly had an influence on our film. I invested around 500,000 crowns (almost €20,000) of my own personal money, and while devising the production plan, I calculated that we could shoot for 13-14 days. I had to scrap several scenes in order to be able to fit everything into that number of shooting days. Under more favourable financial conditions, I could definitely shoot a film with more plot events and with a different running time.

Besides your personal financial input, you also ran a crowdfunding campaign. What was this experience like?
Crowdfunding is not about posting about your project on the internet and waiting for the money to roll in. On the contrary: when you post a request for crowdfunding, a relatively challenging phase begins. You have to come up with attractive rewards for contributors, shoot a promo video and then meticulously take care of your crowdfunding and social-network profiles. But I am not complaining. I am thankful to the contributors. I have to say that crowdfunding is a good tool for promoting your project: you can send the message about your project out into the world while also raising funds for it.

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