For those of you in France or Germany tonight (Tuesday 17 Feb 09), there is an amazing film showing on ARTE at 11pm. I would hope it is also available on Netflix, and I read that it has been released on dvd.
STESTI manages to engage our interest while following a large cast of characters. From a writing standpoint, this is very difficult. As young writers, we are taught to keep it simple, have just one protagonist with a clear goal. Here the filmmaker brings us into the many lives of an entire apartment complex in the Czech Republic. And he does it brilliantly. This is the kind of film where from the very first shot, you know you are in the hands of a master.
I saw this film when it showed at Premiers Plans in Angers in January 2006. At the time, I was attending a DGA sponsored directing workshop. All of the students as well as our teacher Ron Underwood were blown away by the humanity of this unique film. We spent much of the evening talking about it.
The next morning, I ran into the filmmaker at breakfast. After congratulating him on his work, I was dying to ask him a question relating to my work. Since I was getting ready to shoot with a child (for Saving Mom and Dad), I wanted to know of any tips he could give me since the two child performances in his film are among the best I have ever seen.
He explained that these children were really orphans who he found through social services in the Czech Republic. They came on board the film and were “adopted” by him as well as the cast and crew throughout the shoot.
Out of curiosity, I asked if he is in touch with these children and where they are now. I was expecting him to say that they are safe and sound, back at the orphanage, enriched from the experience of making the film.
“I am in touch with them”, he replied, “I see them every day”. I was puzzled until he added, “I legally adopted them”.
In the intensity of making a film, close bonds are formed. But after the filming, they usually evaporate. One tragic and widely reported case of this was the Kubrick-Malcolm Mcdowell relationship on Clockwork Orange. Throughout filming, they had an almost symbiotic relationship, and Kubrick became a real father figure for the young actor. However once they wrapped, Kubrick no longer returned his phone calls. Ouch. And yet, this is probably very common.
When Bohdan Slama does the opposite, it tells me that he is not just a great filmmaker, but also a great human being. The story does not end when the filming ends and neither does his love for these children. Slama understands and lives by a deeper truth. That film and life are intricately related, just as all things are connected.