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Peter Kerekes • Director

“The story is easy to understand yet very powerful and interesting”


- KARLOVY VARY 2017: Peter Kerekes, the winner of this year’s Works in Progress Award@KVIFF, discusses his latest project, Censor

Peter Kerekes • Director

Slovakian documentarian Peter Kerekes won the Works in Progress Award@KVIFF for his latest project, Censor, at the 14th edition of the industry initiative at this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (see the news). After his acclaimed documentaries Cooking History and Velvet Terrorists [+see also:
film review
film profile
, Kerekes shifts to fiction filmmaking with his latest effort, while not losing touch with his documentary background. Cineuropa met up with the director shortly after he won the prize to talk more about the project.

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Cineuropa: When Censors was originally introduced as a project, it was a triptych similar to Velvet Terrorists, featuring the censorship of words in a Ukrainian prison, image censorship in Saudi Arabia and censorship in the world of Nollywood cinema. However, at Karlovy Vary’s Works in Progress, Censor seemed to revolve only around the Ukrainian prison, in a feature-length format. Why did this change occur?
Peter Kerekes:
 The original idea was to make a documentary feature. So we started our research in Ukraine, since it was the easiest part, long before we had any money for development. Step by step, a fiction feature was being born, and I still thought it was going to be a triptych. I realised that there were too many motifs in Censor after the first shooting phase, and it would have been a shame to limit it to 30 minutes. When we decided to cram in the motifs that intrigued us and the things we had found in Odessa, we ended up with a feature-length film. And so we gave up on the other two stories that were originally conceived along with the Ukrainian censor. 

You mentioned that it will be a fiction feature; does that mean you are also transitioning to fiction filmmaking, like your colleagues Peter Ostrochovský, Marko Škop and others?
In contrast with my colleagues, it was not a conceptual decision, because I have never had the ambition to shoot fiction films. Having said that, during shooting, we found that things were way more interesting if they were acted out, rather than being retold or observed. More and more, we were gravitating towards minimalistic fiction directing, which I consider to be a logical result of what we started to use in Velvet Terrorists. I believe the intimacy in the film is immensely important because we are shooting long scenes, from which I intend to pick just a few seconds or just one glance where people will react authentically.

Your previous project revolved around a historical topic, as you were chronicling events; why did you choose a topic from the present day for your latest project?
My previous projects did not stem from a concept where I told myself that I was going to chronicle historical events. They were rather topics that I became obsessed with, and Censor has something in common with Velvet Terrorists and Cooking History, where I follow a small man dealing with a moral dilemma, so there is still a similarity, even though the story is anchored in the present.

Why the topic of censorship?
It all began as a joke, in much the same way as Cooking History and Velvet Terrorists originated as a joke. The DoP, Martin Kollár, was travelling, and at an airport in Saudi Arabia, he saw a lifestyle magazine for women where every single décolletage and miniskirt was scrubbed out by hand with a black marker. Originally, we wanted to make a film about the person who does this as a full-time job, scribbling over breasts and thighs eight hours a day. We did some research and found out about forms of censorship that are not necessarily political, and we came across censorship in prison, which eventually led to a standalone feature film. 

What is the current status of the project?
We are halfway through principal photography, and the prize we won at Karlovy Vary gave the project more importance, so I believe we can ask for more money to enable us to have more shooting days, and shoot in the autumn, winter and spring. We should be finished in 2018, and if we follow a normal pace in the editing room, I expect to finish the film in summer 2018. We are still trying to secure some funding and co-producers. We are currently in negotiations with Ukrainian producers; the pitch at Karlovy Vary attracted some interesting proposals, and besides Slovakian, Czech and Ukrainian financial partners, we would like to find a fourth one, ideally from Denmark, France or Germany.

I believe the story is strong and original in a way, despite the fact that prison films constitute a genre in their own right. It’s the story of a woman monitoring the lives of several people without being able to interfere, kind of an old-style drama. On one hand, the stories of those people are tragic – things usually do not end up going well in prison – but on the other hand, it is not lacking in humour. Not only are there comic aspects from my side, but the stories themselves are also tragicomic in their own right, and since we are shooting in Odessa, it is much more visually interesting compared to Slovakia. The story is easy to understand yet very powerful and interesting.

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