Makers of Czech Dream turn sights on abandoned US radar plan in new documentary Czech Peace

07-05-2010

In 2004 Vít Klusák and Filip Remunda made a big splash with Český Sen, or Czech Dream, about a hoax they pulled on shoppers in Prague, using a big advertising campaign to draw them to a non-existent hypermarket. The documentary, originally their final project at film school, received a good deal of international attention for the way it raised questions about consumerism in a post-communist society.

Now the two young filmmakers are back with Český Mír, Czech Peace, which they describe as a “comedy documentary”. It is about US plans to build a radar base in Brdy in central Bohemia, plans that were later abandoned. Vít Klusák explains the genesis of the new film.

'Český Mír''Český Mír' “What attracted our interest in the beginning was the fact that another major power, America, was supposed to be bringing its army to a country that already had experience of Soviet occupation. We were literally provoked when we learned that the base was meant to stand on the exact same base where the Soviets allegedly had nuclear weapons. We saw that it was a fiery topic in society, people started fighting, when Bush came here there were big demonstrations.”

One of the more amusing elements of Czech Peace is a song recorded before a visit from US president George W Bush – featuring a senior Czech cabinet minister on backing vocals.

“As a present for Bush, the then minister of defence, Vlasta Parkanová, sang on a remix of an old song that in the 1960s celebrated the flight of the first cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into space. Our minister sang it with the country singer Jan Vyčítal, not about Gagarin but America’s ‘stars and stripes’ flag. That got us thinking that this subject was full of absurd, comical, explosive events. We thought it was a great subject for a documentary, though we were also interested in the fact that it was a serious subject.”

Vít Klusák and Filip RemundaVít Klusák and Filip Remunda So what was the two young directors’ own view of the American plans for a radar base that would have been part of a global anti-missile shield? Vít Klusák continues.

“Like most people in the Czech Republic we didn’t know what kind of radar it was going to be, what kind of system it would be part of. So during the course of filming we formed a picture of the radar. In order to make this film, we said to ourselves that our role should be strictly as observers. As our protagonists we cast Tomáš Klvaňa, who the government appointed to explain the radar to people, and the mayor of the village of Trokavec, Jan Neoral – he was the first mayor to organise a referendum on the radar and to a certain extent initiated popular resistance to it.”

Klusák’s partner Filip Remunda says some of the intense rhetoric surrounding the radar issue showed a lack of political maturity in the Czech Republic, two decades after the country returned to democracy.

'Český Mír''Český Mír' “Above all we learned that one legacy of 40 years of communism is that we have been left with a kind of pronounced anti-communism. If, for example, somebody is critical of some plan from America, or the Western world, then he is automatically regarded as a Communist, or somebody linked to Putin or working for the KGB. It’s like a kind of allergy. It’s as if now we’re a free country we have to accept all American plans absolutely uncritically.”

The Bush regime announced plans to build a US radar base in central Bohemia in 2007. But eight months after Barack Obama came to power, in September last year, his administration said it was dropping the project. So viewers of Czech Peace know the fate of the radar before they watch it. But Klusák says that doesn’t mean the documentary is lacking in tension.

“This film isn’t only about whether or not the radar should be built. It’s full of tension from the start, not only about the radar, but in social terms. People started arguing about it on the streets of Czech towns and cities, some even fought about it in parliament. It was extremely divisive. For us the film is about the Czech Republic 20 years after the fall of communism, not whether or not we’d have a radar.”

'Český Mír''Český Mír' Recently the divisive American documentary maker Michael Moore has been fulsome in his praise of Klusák and Remunda. He told National Public Radio that Czech Dream was among his favourite DVDs. And he now says he also loves Czech Peace and wants to show it at his own Traverse Film Festival. Filip Remunda:

“We were happy to hear about that. At the same time, here in the Czech Republic we sometimes come across people saying that we must be left-wing filmmakers, if Michael Moore likes us. But that’s not how we see things. It’s total nonsense to think that we’d make films because of any ideology. That would make us activists, not filmmakers.”

Czech Dream made a big splash internationally, winning several prizes. Given its success, what hopes does Remunda have for its follow-up?

'Český Mír''Český Mír' “We would be glad if it was successful too. But we don’t make films to be successful, we make them in order to think about certain topics, to encourage a debate among the public. We like to say that our films don’t end when the closing credits roll. We’d like viewers to leave the cinema wanting to join in discussions on our website. For instance, six years after Czech Dream came out, the discussion on its site is still constantly alive, people still feel the need to express an opinion about it…If you’re film wins at some festival, that mainly makes it easier to make other films. That’s all.”

07-05-2010