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JIHLAVA 2021

Barbora Sliepková • Director of Lines

"I imagine Bratislava as an aquarium, an incubator, a playground"

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- The emerging Slovak filmmaker talks about her award-winning visual urban symphony revolving around the Slovak capital

Barbora Sliepková • Director of Lines
(© Nicole Brlej)

Emerging Slovak filmmaker Barbora Sliepková is up to a good career start as her feature-length monochromatic debut Lines [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Barbora Sliepková
film profile
]
won the main prize along with the Best Debut and Best Sound awards at the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival (read the news), while receiving a special award of the international jury at Slovakia's One World Festival (read the news). Lines maps the transformation of the Slovak capital Bratislava in a poetical manner while following a coterie of characters. The director talks to Cineuropa about the aestheticisation of the city's topography, the musical component, and an accompanying multimedia installation inspired by the film.

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Cineuropa: Lines is described as an urban symphony of a post-socialist city, while the film alternates alluringly composed urban shots with scenes of the protagonists and their micro-stories connected by the leitmotif of loneliness. Why did you opt for this combination?
Barbora Sliepková: Characterising the intended concept of the city as "an urban symphony" helped me to communicate my inner images to my colleagues - cameraman, script editor, producer - in the preparatory phase. Towards the end, we looked at the individual visual elements with our optics, poetically. The capturing of the rhythm and atmosphere was complemented by subtle observations of topics that I considered essential.

The visual fragmentation of Bratislava, a kind of transformation from an industrial city into another - business-oriented and with a lot of visual and sonic smog, along the actual one caused by the number of vehicles. At the same time, I did not want to stay on such an abstract level and we wanted to communicate the experience of living in this city through the intimacy of our protagonists. It is such a transgression from public to private space. The city is primarily made up of people. Not only as a mass but also as individuals.

You mentioned that you worked almost using the method of animated film. Can you elaborate?
This was intended at the very beginning of the project. I think realism eventually prevailed in the final cut. I imagine Bratislava as an aquarium, an incubator, a playground. We traveled from one side to the other, which is very easy in this city. You can see the city's panorama from every side during a single day. For me, it is a model representing other cities with similar post-socialist experiences. Therefore, we were not afraid of a certain stylisation or aestheticisation. We used double exposures, with the help of a long lens we compressed the perspective, we did not limit ourselves to geographical realias while editing. When searching for shots, I often bowed my head and looked at notorious sights upside down until I felt sometimes sorry that we didn't use the shots this way in the end - the buildings would fly in the sky like spaceships.

What was the key for choosing the protagonists?
Each of the protagonists represents a different type of interest for the public space. Blanka is not very interested in politics, she is most affected by it in the form of housing meetings. Her apartment is a safe space. Matúš, a young activist, has found enough energy to run for mayor of his city district, he believes that he will have a real impact on things. Invisible road line-makers take care of the proper movement of the city on a daily basis. I have these different positions within myself. Sometimes, I don't even want to leave my apartment, other times I make a movie or run to a demonstration and I hope that I will contribute to a change.

Music and sound play a crucial role.
It's important for me to think about the music upfront for every film. I really like to combine different approaches to merging image and sound. With sound designer Michal Horváth, we had a clear idea from the start about a certain stylisation of the sound. However, I never worked on an original soundtrack, and working with composer Jonatán Pastirčák was very rewarding in this regard. We were looking for the right ratio of acoustic sound and electronics. The music he composed echoes my feelings of Bratislava.

The film features dialectics of place-non-place, intimate-public, man-animal, loneliness-communism, socialism-capitalism, past-present. Why did you choose these combinations?
These are my thoughts, subtle observations of things around. I see them layered on the buildings, on the faces of passers-by, and on the stories they tell each other in cafes.

In addition to the film, Lines is also a multimedia installation - a collective work combining stage design, lighting design, experimental sound score, and movement performance. How did this expansion come about?
Distributors Matej Sotník and Adam Straka of Film Expanded together with producer Barbara Janišová Feglová knew before the finalisation of the film that it would require a creative way of distribution. Therefore, we have been thinking about creating a work inspired by the themes of the film for a long time. Ultimately, our colleagues decided to contact the creative duo of Ján Šicko and Jonatán Pastirčák. We also contacted the performer and dancer Soňa Kúdelová. I am very glad that they were inspired by the themes of the film and its poetics so much that they built such an extension of the film. The knowledge that such sensitive artists will be involved around the film was also the driving force for me to complete the film because I had the opportunity to hear their opinion on the unfinished version. And seeing subsequently how my themes translate into another artistic language was very inspiring.

You are currently working on Ecological Disasters with documentarists Viera Čákanyová and Lucia Kašová. Can you talk a bit about this project?
Lucia Kašová, who is the originator of the project, contacted me for a series of short films dealing with the acute topic of ecological threats in Slovakia. In the end, we opted for a film format with producer Anna Rumanová. Ecological Disasters will be a feature film comprising of three short stories. We will follow the process of dealing with the three largest toxic landfills. I am working on gudron (acid waste oil) waste lakes in Predajná. We three are closer to the essayistic form, so it will be a subtly apocalyptic picture of the real danger. The objective is to offer a radical cinematic perspective of Slovakia and its toxic heritage, inconspicuously scattered across the picturesque country.

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