Film director Slávek Horák at the Vancouver International Film Festival
Ambitious Czech film director Slávek Horák is impressed with the Czech and Slovak community in Vancouver, Canada.
“If I ever meant to share a message, it was mainly the importance of getting to know yourself better,“ Horák says of his debut “Home Care”, which has been shortlisted to represent the Czech Republic at the 2015 Oscars nominations.
Canada Place, Vancouver, Canada ©robertdemeterphotography.com
In our past issues we introduced Vancouver-based Czech painter Jan Kašparec, football academy owner Libor Volf, and Czech singer Iva Bittová. Amongst this series of interesting and successful Czechs and Slovaks working abroad, it is our pleasure to dedicate this issue to a rising star of Czech cinema, film director Slávek Horák. His debut movie is garnering success at festivals around the world, no small thanks to excellent performances by great Czech and Slovak actors Bolek Polívka, Alena Mihulová, Zuzana Kronerová and Tatiana Vilhelmová.
The screening of Home Care at the VIFF (www.viff.org) film festival in Vancouver, Canada was a success. For years this festival has attracted viewers to nine locations around Vancouver and showcased work from over 70 countries. On average, 140,000 people attend VIFF‘s 350 screenings every year. This makes VIFF one of the 5 biggest film festivals in North America. Home Care attracted line-ups wherein the Czech and Slovak languages outnumbered English. People happily greeted one another in Czech or Slovak and impatiently awaited their friends.
Vancouver city view from Cypress Mountain, Canada ©robertdemeterphotography.com
Just before the screening started, I was overheard a film festival volunteer being introduced to a person called Slavek. I somehow knew that this person was not just any Slavek. And he wasnt’t! He was the charismatic director Slávek Horák, who was attending the screening as a surprise guest. It was a very pleasant surprise as there is nothing better than to finish off a great film with a discussion about it with its director! Since his cultural background is rooted in the South-eastern part of the Czech Republic called Moravia, known as a wine growing and plum liquor-making region, he symbolically rewarded each viewer who came up with a question during the Q&A forum with a shot of a local plum liquor called slivovitz. Later during our interview he revealed that at the second screening, the Vancouver cinema banned his generous and innocent distribution of this smooth south Moravian delicacy to the public. This was of course due to the fact that the cinema did not have the appropriate liquor licence that is required by law in British Columbia, Canada. As the director mentioned, this would never ever happen in the Czech Republic because a cinema operator would find this fun rather than an issue. Luckily this newly acquired information about Canada has not discouraged the director’s sense of humor.
Slávek Horák was happy to see the Canadian, Czech and Slovak audiences‘ reaction to his movie. They were clearly excited. So what is this movie, directed and scripted by Slávek, all about?
On behalf of the Czech and Slovak Association in Vancouver, we interviewed him during a pleasant meeting in Vancouver’s Gastown neighborhood. Despite jetlag from traveling the world to promote his film, Slávek gleamed with excitement from its success. He radiated humbleness interwoven with a healthy ambition, but most importantly an amazing drive to proudly represent his Moravian movie and showcase it to the world. Congratulations on your success at the Vancouver Film Festival, Slávek.
Home Care is your debut. How did it come about? At the Vancouver screening you mentioned that it is based on your family story. You even used props from your home. Why is it so close and personal to you?
Thank you, I am very happy to be in Vancouver because it is great here. I have been shooting commercials for 20 years but I never felt ready for a movie. However as my 40th birthday approached, I decided to give it a shot. I started going back home to Moravia from Prague to enjoy the peaceful environment and think about my movie. But my Mom kept interrupting me with her stories. It took me a while to understand that her stories are actually more interesting than the ones that I could ever create. So this is how it came about. My Mom and her stories did not let me write anything but that. I realized that my Mom is a great character for a movie. I started collecting her stories and wrote the main character based on her, then added her husband – my Dad, as it seemed interesting to me and to others. The film characters portray certain stereotypes, both in my Mom and Dad, that we all carry within ourselves and often do not even realize. I wanted to show these and bring them out. As far as the location is concerned, everything happened naturally. As the main characters are in fact my parents, they were put into my environment because that place reflects their character. In movies, a location scout attempts to create a certain atmosphere by using a particular setting and costumes in order to visualize each character, however with this it was sufficient to set the characters in my location. It was actually an easy and economical solution. We did not have to search for a location because the shooting took place at my parents‘ house and my parents liked it because they did not know what they were in for.
How did your movie get to VIFF, the film festival in Vancouver? What does this mean to you and what was the reaction like from the Czech, Slovak and Canadian audiences in Vancouver?
For a long time I did not know how the movie qualified for VIFF but I found out from Pavol Hell, a Slovak gentleman living in Vancouver who has been selecting and recommending Czech films to the festival for years. He previously introduced the Czech movie director Jan Hřebejk and his movies. When I received the offer, I accepted immediately as I am fond of Canada. I have been to Montreal and Quebec City before and it was awesome. I like Vancouver as it is located on the West Coast and I had never been here before.
At the first screening I could hear Czech and Slovak as people greeted one another. Our movie has been created as a Czech and Slovak co-production, both languages are spoken, and the actors are both from the Czech and Slovak Republics. The reaction from the audiences was amazing. People understand what this movie is all about as they recall similar situations from their lives. I am very excited about the Czech and Slovak community in Vancouver. My warmest greetings to all the fellow countrymen in Vancouver.
Downtown Vancouver, Canada ©robertdemeterphotography.com
At what other festivals is your movie being shown, either in your country or abroad? What are your expectations?
Since this is my first film, I did not even know how many film festivals there are worldwide. Naturally I have heard about the famous ones such as Karlovy Vary (Czech Republic), Cannes (France), Berlin (Germany) and Venice (Italy). But I did not know that there are hundreds of festivals and every week 2 to 3 of them take place. For example, I arrived here from Busan in Korea where we participated in the biggest Asian film festival. At the same time a festival was happening in Haifa, Israel where we were represented by our actress Alena Mihulová. After Vancouver I am flying to Mannheim, Germany and then I am off to Cairo, Leeds, Zagreb, Tallinn, Ljubljana and Dubai… there are invitations coming every week. There is a lot ahead of us and I am surprised that the movie has received such a warm welcome. Naturally, we are not always presented as the main draw but I am pleased to see the reaction to our little Moravian movie by people from totally different cultures and corners of the planet.
The presentation of a movie at film festivals is organized by publicists and sales agents who attempt to sell a movie to international TV networks and cinema distributors. It is a giant business network; there are large organizations that connect festivals with movie creators. We signed ourselves up for important festivals and we were contacted by the smaller festivals because they had most likely seen us at another festival. I think it all started in Karlovy Vary where we had our very first screening, and where our actress Alena Mihulová was awarded the Best Actress Award. Karlovy Vary is a big and influential festival so the organizers of other festivals became aware and asked for a copy of the movie. From then on everything went smoothly.
Your movie is representing the Czech Republic at the Oscars nominations. What is your ambition connected with this and how will this be reflected in your future work?
The Oscars include an award for the Best Foreign Language Film and each country submits a movie that best represents their country. This year the Czech Film and Television Academy in the Czech Republic picked my movie out of 39 submitted films.
I am very honoured to have been chosen, especially as this is my first movie. So I will be travelling to Los Angeles to attend a screening with the academics followed by a Q&A. Apparently the judges like to get to know the movie makers. So what are my hopes? Over 80 movies have been nominated and many have been awarded prizes at large festivals in Cannes and Berlin. So the competition is fierce and any success is a win. First, nine movies are short-listed, so if we get there, we will consider it a success. Then five of those are nominated, which would mean a victory for me because the actual victory seems very distant.
How would this impact my future work? Since I have been creating commercials for 20 years, I speak English and know the culture, so I would like to make an English language movie. Any success, such as being short-listed at the Oscars, would be a great step forward to seriously start thinking about making that next movie in English. I would really love that. I, of course, love the Czech Republic and Czech culture, which is also quite obvious from my movie, but the reach in the Czech language is very limited.
The truly global stuff is 99% made in English. It would have to be something very extraordinary to make it big. I would love to make the best movies that reach a large audience, and that would have a larger reach. Therefore my goal is to shoot in English, which is an universal language. Plus the director has the opportunity to work with some amazing artists who tend to be the best in the world at what they do. This idea is very appealing. Since I have had experience with international film teams, I should be able to succeed and I will be working towards this goal. Any success at the Oscars would naturally only support this idea and create great opportunities.
Now let’s talk about the theme of your movie.
Based on the experience of your family you have chosen the topic of alternative healing, natural and energy healing versus traditional medicine. Is this an attempt to share a story with the world about self-awareness and the necessity to believe in self-healing without medication?
It is not so much about this topic as far as I am concerned. It is more about listening to yourself, the ability to take care of yourself, your health and to own your life in general. It actually does not matter what draws you towards this topic, whether it is spirituality, natural healing or anything else. In the movie, the main female character discovers it through her illness, which is simultaneously directly connected with her profession. It is interesting as she feels confident and considers herself a professional working as a nurse but suddenly she realizes that her sovereignty is crumbling under the influx of new information. As she is broadening her horizons and acquiring new knowledge about other types of healing, she is mainly learning new aspects of herself. This in particular seems really important to me. My aim has mainly been to show how important it is to get to know your inner self. Once you achieve that, it is reflected on the outside and it kicks in at situations where you find yourself caring for others and communicating with them. When you are in tune with yourself, then naturally your relationships become better and more pristine.
Photo by ©robertdemeterphotography.com
To what extent have you been influenced by your mother‘s nursing profession and her devotion to others as it is portrayed in the movie? Have you realized that you need to balance yourself and your inner self?
This has been an interesting development. When I became a teenager, I despised my Mom’s caring attitude. Probably as any teenager, I was pretty much self-centered and selfish and I felt that the most important thing is just to care about yourself. The altruistic attitude of my mother annoyed me at that time. A typical example would be a situation when she would make yummy Czech schnitzels and one got burned, then she would eat the burned one. This used to upset me a lot but I accepted her the way she is. Now I remembered it again and realized that my movie may have started when I was a teenager and the protectiveness bothered me. Today, on the other hand, I find it moving as selflessness is a precious gift.
As far as the caring is concerned, either for yourself or others, this needs to be in balance. The main film character Vlasta is not balanced, she is de-railed towards caring too much for others, which is as unhealthy as being selfish. So my intention really was not to produce a great message but rather to remind people that there is not much time left in our lives. Therefore the selfish ones should care more for others and the selfless ones should take better care of themselves. We all need to balance our lives to achieve a greater peace and happiness.
In the movie, the healer is using a very specific method with each participant that involves soul searching. It looks as if people become unconscious. Have you attended a similar soul searching course? How deeply are you connected to your soul and what is it telling you?
Personally, I have not been through such a course. I am not so sensitive or open to it, I am quite shy. I may try it out face to face with a guru but not in a group. I was introduced to this topic by my ex-girlfriend who found this very interesting and she attended a few seminars. So I received the information directly from her and I also researched various healers online, even though the healing methods are sometimes bizarre. Healers use different healing techniques to put the participants into a state of trance, either through meditation, holotropic breathwork, drugs or psychedelics. The goal is to exacerbate the senses and create a state of higher sensitivity towards spiritual awareness.
I am lucky that I have received a good base thanks to my upbringing and I have a sense of awareness; I do not feel any burning clash inside. These issues usually touch people who face many life challenges, who are not balanced or have problems. But I feel that I am more or less fine and settled. Therefore I am not seeking out similar sessions, states of trance or meditations.
Which movie directors do you feel inspired by and who do you admire?
I have always loved Miloš Forman, which is not that unusual. Especially with his movies The Fireman’s Ball and The Loves of a Blond, I had always felt that this is exactly the way I would be showing the world if I knew how to. There is the perfect mix of humour, nostalgia, tragedy, and a very vivid peek into the functioning of a human mind and society.
Forman is a very intelligent and sensitive observer who is tuned into people’s. People often do not express their desires, they often say other things out loud. I have never tried to consciously copy Miloš Forman or to follow his example while shooting, however since my childhood he has been a very close soul to mine. He naturally does not know about that but I perceive it that way. I have always sensed that if I was as talented as he is, I would shoot movies that way.
How was it to work with Bolek Polivka, one of the most famous Czech actors?
It was great, the cooperation with all the actors was great. Not only are the actors very talented, they are also very hard working. I took great care choosing actors that fit each character well. I did not have to explain anything, they immediately understood because they come from Moravia and the film characters are close to their heart. Bolek is a robust man that hides behind his jokes but in fact, he is a very sensitive soul inside. Alena is in real life the same caring mother who does a lot for her family. Zuzana Kronerova is an intense charismatic person, who is not an actual healer in real life, but she is a strong leader. Because the film characters appealed to them, I did not have to explain much, we did not have to make an extra effort to perfect their characters. They are all extremely talented and very hard working so they were always prepared for the shoots, focused hard and even offered suggestions for various improvements. For me it was just pure pleasure to choose from a wide range of the best scenes.
Do you have a new project in mind within a short or longer time span, and if so, what is your next theme? Having experienced such success with your first movie, we assume it will not be the only one?
Well, it is not going to be Home Care 2. I would love to continue making movies. I feel that I have finally discovered my place in the world, the job of a movie maker. It is not such a big deal but it suits me. I am not sure what comes next. I was ready to start writing, I have some ideas and topics, but now I have experienced a big wave of unexpected interest in this movie so for the next half a year I will fully dedicate myself to the promotion of this film, which totally takes up all my time. In spring I will relax and seriously start thinking about the next step. Now I do not even have a minute to do so.
Dear readers, what to conclude about Home Care?
There was laughter coming from all the corners of the cinema and the viewers surely left impressed. The director’s goal was to portray the importance of getting to know yourself. At the same time the viewers identified with the situations that felt close to their heart. Since the film depicts the character of nurse Vlasta, many women certainly identified with her role as a wife and mother. They connected with the feelings of joy and sometimes burden that is represented in the neverending care for a family, husband, children and others.
Simultaneously, those whose lives have been affected by cancer or other life-threatening disease, or those who have supported their loved ones throughout an illness, were taken back by the feelings of fear, powerlessness, and hopefully also belief and hope for a cure. Those who are momentarily overwhelmed by any other life issues and resort to alternative healing, self-healing without medication, reiki, therapies aimed at gaining power and trust, or those who attend seminars to release their emotions, were able to distinguish the nuances of searching for the inner truth within their soul. Specifically, what have you taken home?
The idea that lingers in the air when the movie comes to an end is hope. Hope that we may believe. Hope that we may be cured and overcome a dangerous disease. Hope that love and surrendering to life‘s challenges will set us in the right direction. Hope that the more we get to know ourselves and our soul, the better we will feel, the better lives we will live, and the better relationships we will have with the world. The hope that despite somewhat painfully digging in our emotions and searching for inner truth, we will come across findings and experiences that will raise us to a totally new state of awareness and consciousness. The hope that this new perception will enrich us.
So get to know yourself, start digging into the depth of your inner being, analyse the causes of your pains and illnesses, and ask yourself why you are not feeling happy right now. Ask yourself what this means to you. At the same time, do not forget to bring joy into your life while being surrounded by those you love. Especially those who will endure with you till the very end, under any circumstances.
Photo by ©robertdemeterphotography.com
From The Editor of Zpravodaj Magazine
This interview has been conducted by Lenka de Graafova, CEO of the translation company LingoStar and volunteer reporter for the Czech and Slovak magazine Zpravodaj. We welcome your feedback at LingoStar Translations Facebook page. It belongs to a series about interesting people from the Czech and Slovak Republics who have succeeded abroad. We thank www.robertdemeterphotography.com for his photos that accompany this article.
Lenka with Slavek in the Gastown neighborhood of Vancouver, Canada ©robertdemeterphotography.com
Stay Tuned for the Next Issue
We have an interview in the pipeline with Zdenka Blechova, an interesting and energetic woman who undertakes chanelling and produces seminars geared at searching the inner self. She also owns an Egyptian spa and manages her own publishing house where she has published numerous books on self-healing techniques, meditation, connecting to your inner self and staying healthy. Do not miss out on the universal messages in our next interview!
Do you have an interesting story of your life abroad that you want to share with the world? Contact Lenka at lenka @ lingo-star.com. A Czech version of this interview is available at this link. Thank you for your patronage and support in an effort to show the world interesting people of the Czech and Slovak nations. All of you are in fact celebrities and interesting in your own way!
Lenka de Graafova
Check out the Czech translation of this interview here: dev.lingo-star.com/project/horak-domaci-pece/.
Read the German version of this interview here: dev.lingo-star.com/project/film-home-care-horak/.