Interview with Martin Dušek, director of the OHF TV spot

TV spot called "Olga stays with us" is tied with name of its creator, director and screenwriter Martin Dušek (38). Although he is quite young, he is well known and pretty successful in the documentary industry – some of his films were laurelled at international festivals. He himself is just as interesting, as you will have a chance to find out in the following interview.

What are your childhood memories?

I was born in Česká Lípa, however my childhood is tied with Teplice. My grandfather lived in Modlany, where we used to visit him, and I remember that we would regularly stop in Ústí nad Labem. Once, it was raining and our white Trabant (car) was parked in front of a mall, covered in blue rain drops - rain was simply blue-colored there. In Modlany, everything was worn out and dirty, snow was never white. In addition to that, Russian military transports drove through the town to Krupky, where the military garrison was based. For me, Northern Bohemia was a kind of weird, industrial zone but, at the same time, my funny and cheerful grandfather lived there.  And because of that it is not a coincidence that almost all my work has been done in the surroundings of Modlany. 

Let's talk about your grandfather who, to a great degree, influenced you and your interest in film. Am I right?

My grandfather was born before the war. He was a local patriot and he used to tell me plenty of stories from his youth. For instance, he got kicked out from Hitlerjugend, because he didn't come to meetings and beat up his boss; he joined the resistance and stole a pistol from an SS guy that came to have his car repaired; or his bet with a Russian officer on who would first get on a volcanic mountain peak Oblík in Central Bohemian Uplands: the officer drove a jeep, while my grandpa drove a special German car with two carburetors (he was an auto mechanic) - and he won. These stories were always my favorite ones and they certainly did influence me, so I graduated as a television journalist at the Charles University and afterwards, I went to study documentary at FAMU (Film and TV School of Academy of Performing Arts).

Was it your childhood dream to become a director?

Television had a great impact on me back then - Czech TV reporter Honzík from Liberec and his colleague Stuchlík from Ústí were my role models. As a child inspired by them, I used to play with a “microphone” made of a children sand shovel and measuring tape. 

And it was worth it – in 2007 you became the winner of the International Documentary Film Festival in Jihlava with your documentary Poustevna, das ist Paradies!, and later on, you managed to win two more times. Why do you keep going back to Sudetenland so often in your films?

The countryside there has several layers. The original layer of German culture was covered with an industrial, collective communist civilization and it changed even more after the dissolution of local industry. Bizarre buildings were built during the times when people started to have enough money to build their own houses and move out of flats. Altogether, it makes an interesting mixture in which one can find a bit of each layer. And then, underneath, there is brown coal creating strange photogenic tension. Simply, there is always something to observe and to capture on film, that’s why I like it. 

Once you said somewhere that brown coal excavators fascinate you. Why is that?

Grandpa’s town - Modlany was to be demolished  because of the coal mine enlargement. When I was a little kid, my grandfather would scare me with saying that a big walking excavator will come to do so. I was terrified of that monster - a 50 meters high machine with legs. Later, I made a short movie Odstřel (Blasting) about this instrument of destruction for several villages and one town. It was a story from a perspective of a man, who worked all his life with this excavator and considered it the best thing in the world. He even cried when the excavator was destroyed. Today, there is an artificial lake - huge artificial landscape work - in place of former mine. 

Are there any other films you’re working on from this area? 

Indeed. Arabs from Saudi Arabia and Kuwait started to buy land in Modlany, mainly from local politicians. They built residences, where they would spend half a year. Mostly, these are families with handicapped children, who visit the Teplice spa quite often, so they would like to partly settle down there. This is possible thanks to the rich social systems of Saudi Arabia as well as Kuwait that cover the costs of spa treatment. 

Seems like this county was meant for you. Or, can you anticipate breaking away in future?

Maybe it would be time to do so. 

When talking about your job, it seems like you think and philosophize about things quite a lot… 

For a director, it is a way to discover things, to share ideas. Director has to think about life and to be kind of a philosopher. Even in a documentary, it is not enough just to film something and then to edit it. There needs to be an idea behind. 

What do you like about directing: creation images in your head or filming your own reality, where you can discover yet other new elements?

I like both those things and how they are connected. I like to create a plan and make it happen. Most of the time - in better case - it ends up with a surprising and better outcome. There definitely has to be a plan and idea at the beginning. 

Do you have any role models or do you rather follow your own ways?

I think I don’t have any role models. Maybe one - a German documentarist Werner Herzog - who also produces movies. 

Aren’t you attracted to movie-making? 

I am just thinking about it. Maybe I’ll make something short for television - I am actually pretty interested in children’s broadcasting. 

Why this particular broadcasting? 

I am a playful person, that’s why. The backgrounds of colorful scenes fascinate me, I like how every once in a while they turn into a joyful show with an elf and kids just stare at it. Then all the decorations get thrown around on hallways with the elf in the corner. I am interested to see how people from children’s broadcasting make some kind of an ideal world for the children sitting in front of the TV screens. No matter that these people from children’s broadcasting are grown ups, they face plenty of problems they once a week meet in a studio to make this show for children. It attracts me, I’d like to work on that. 

You have already made a documentary about television employees…

It was in 2013 and it was called Parta analog. It was about a group of 80 years old television employees. I put them together so that they could have made their last TV show. These guys used to work for the television during the times when TV represented one of the main tools of the former regime's propaganda. It was interesting to see what they think about their jobs back then in these times. At the same time, there was a funny motivating element as these elderly people were getting back together to prove themselves and the others something significant. 

One year later you succeeded with the film Into the Clouds We Gaze, winner of the Czech Film Critics' Awards as well as the International Documentary Film Festival in Jihlava in 2014.

Indeed, in Jihlava, I received an award for the best documentary film for the third time. (In 2007 the awarded film was Dušek’s Poustevna, das ist Paradies!, in 2010 film Ženy SHR). Originally, it was supposed to be a one-hour long show for Czech TV in Brno, but it ended up being a movie. We were lucky that it got to the festivals in Carlsbad followed by Seville and Chicago. And it didn’t end up within the world of festivals; it was screened also in movie theaters Picturehouse Cinemas in Great Britain. 

Just after the premiere of the movie that captured the poverty of Teplice region as well as despair of young people living there, someone noted that in order to get inside the private life of the main character one must be manipulative and rough. Is it a defamation or rather part of a documentary?

I obviously do not agree with it. However, when you need to get into other’s privacy you realize that everyone has a particular image he or she shows to the world. And a documentarist does not want to capture that consciously presented image of self, which is why he has to break that barrier. 

We should not forget to mention that you are praised for providing the most honest kind of a story that reflects reality which cannot be seen in movies. 

This kind of work and approach is psychologically very difficult. It is different from making a movie. In a movie, one has to construct everything from the very beginning, including all the characters, scenes, storyline, clothing … In a documentary, it is important to choose the right angle and form in which one captures certain fragments of reality. It is also crucial to put them together as a reflection of one’s perception, because the director must guarantee its truthfulness.

Do you feel any impact of being famous? 

I cannot tell that I would need to struggle any fame. For about 16 years, I have been meeting the same people, who always treat me the same way. Maybe one thing: the more successful one is, the more lazy one gets.:)  

You created the TV spot Olga stays with us for the OHF. Do you recall your first contact with the foundation?

I was approached by producer Mrs. Poláková, who probably knew Milena Černá or somebody else from the OHF approximately one year ago. The original idea was to make a commercial; however, our budget was too tight to make it in good quality. We had to come up with other ideas and, finally, we decided to make a short animated spot, where the main element and symbol of the OHF, established by Olga Havel, was her typical hair. 

You also wrote the screenplay, right?

Yes, it happens often with documentaries. I used to make documentaries for the Czech TV, where one must also submit a script to be put in some filer. However, I think it’s a good idea to write a script every time, because the film then gets surprisingly close to that script. For me as a director the script becomes a guide, which I follow in order to be able to make the film. 

Was there anything surprising about the OHF spot?

The OHF was represented by Monika Granja, foundation’s current director. She was surprisingly open to our ideas and liked our untraditional approach, which some might consider as not acceptable exaggeration considering that it was about Olga Havel. She was very supportive. 

What are your recent plans?

I’d like to make a document with one entomologist from České Budějovice, who examines bugs living in the rainforest in Papua New Guinea. He’s received a grant to build a tall crane with a hanging gondola, from which he will be able to do the research on bugs and plants. 

From northern Bohemia to Papua New Guinea, it is a big step. Aren’t you afraid?

I’m not sure if I'm fit enough to go from Modlany to rainforest and wander around there. But the entomologist told me how he works with local workers who live on the boundaries of our and savage civilizations, something like half here and half there. They follow their own rules, believe in witchcraft, sometimes they do not come to work as someone put a jinx on them because of wrongdoing by other member of their family. And I am really interested to see how Czechs interact with these people of nature, and what they have in common. 

Good luck! 



„We wish that the right for dignified life is also enjoyed by those who live with handicap or mental illness, abandoned and old people, those who have a different skin colour or a different way of life, those in poverty or attacked by a malignant disease.“ Olga Havel
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