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KARLOVY VARY 2021 KVIFF Eastern Promises

Kamila Dohnalová, Jan Vejnar • Productrice et scénariste/réalisateur de Head Nurse

“Si vous voulez montrer pourquoi tout le système est en train de s’effondrer, vous ne pouvez pas vous limiter à une seule personne”


- Rencontre avec les gagnants du Prix de développement KVIFF & MIDPOINT à Karlovy Vary, alors qu’ils se préparent à aborder le sujet des travailleurs de la santé dans un film choral

Kamila Dohnalová, Jan Vejnar  • Productrice et scénariste/réalisateur de Head Nurse

Cet article est disponible en anglais.

In their upcoming ensemble film Head Nurse, which won the KVIFF & MIDPOINT Development Award at the Karlovy Vary International Film Festival (see the news), co-writer Vaclav Hasek, writer-director Jan Vejnar and producer Kamila Dohnalová will show a hospital where many destinies – and storylines – constantly collide, with difficult decisions being made on a daily basis. But there is some humour to be found in such struggles, although beware – it’s going to be dark.

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Cineuropa: The jury argued that yours was an interesting project because of the unusual mix of “dark reality, comedy and social issues”.
Kamila Dohnalová:
I wanted to be part of it precisely because of this. This dark humour in combination with social critique, that’s what makes it unique and original. But it’s not some slapstick comedy – we don’t want to laugh just for the sake of it.

Jan Vejnar: The first articles I read, the ones that made me start thinking about this possibly turning into a film, were not funny at all. Then I started to get in touch with nurses, especially one head nurse, who is the main advisor for our film, and I heard some weird and absurd stories as well. Some things are funny, some more thriller-like and dramatic, and soon, I started to see the hospital as the main character. Then I remembered all of those ensemble films by Robert Altman, like Nashville or M.A.S.H., and that particular mood that he creates – that depiction of reality which is a bit ironic and sometimes comedic, but the message is still there, the message about the state of society and so on.

When I mentioned to a nurse recently what people started to do during the pandemic, all of this “clapping for healthcare workers” business, she said she hated it. “Nobody cared about us before,” she said.
Most of the initial stories I read dealt precisely with that. My wife works in a hospital, although not as a nurse, and she told me they were the glue holding this whole institution together. The system, on its own, is actually not that strong – the people are the system. Nurses had to struggle so much even before COVID-19, which is why we are not really mentioning it in the film. COVID is not the culprit; it just exposed something that was already there, and not just in the Czech Republic either. We started with this head nurse, and it was all supposed to be seen from her point of view, but then I realised that if you want to show why the whole system is collapsing, you can’t just limit yourself to one person.

KD: Now, her story is just one of the many we follow. She is the connecting element, still, because she is really in the middle of it all. It’s through her that the audience will get to experience this hospital as a living organism.

You mentioned Altman, but ensemble films can be very challenging. You have to make sure that you pay enough attention to all these different people!
It is challenging, yes, and that’s why we are constantly changing some of the storylines. Some characters are gone, while others are returning. You have to make sure the audience can relate to these micro-situations quicker; they need to understand why some people, who are not exactly likeable, for example, do what they do. Individual stories might be interesting, but you still need to think about the bigger picture and the central topic of the film, which is money and the hospital from that economic perspective.

You worked together before, so is anything changing now? Or are you sticking to whatever worked before?
I think it’s pretty well established by now, and I am glad that it is. I wouldn’t say I have a distinct directorial style – it still changes from film to film – but Kamila already knows how I think and what I want to say. Even when I am unable to properly express it, which is happening right now [laughs].

KD: Our first professional contact happened when Jan sent me the script for a feature film. It was great, and I loved it, but for a first film, it felt too demanding. For a while, we played with the idea of making it happen, and then we made Figurant [a short starring Denis Lavant]. It became our calling card. Now, with Head Nurse, we are trying to figure out what works and have this creative dialogue about the story. Jan has now disappeared from Zoom, but usually, he is a big part of it!

We have a treatment that’s almost ready, and by the end of the year, we will have the first draft. We received support for script development from the Czech Film Fund, and we see this film as a co-production between different countries, so we are looking for partners within the region, but also Scandinavia or the Baltic countries. It’s crucial for us to find someone who will share our desire to mix all of these genres, which can be tricky. But that’s what makes it so special.

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