Breaking Down Stereotypes
An Interview with Vít Klusák about his latest film All for the Good of the World and Nosovice
by Zdeněk Blaha
When Hyundai announced in 2005 its plans to build a new car plant in the Czech Republic, no one knew what impact the decision would have on the residents of Nošovice, a little village in the Ostrava region. Although there was a number of other possible locations on Hyundai's list, in the end the plant was built near the Beskydy nature reserve. The land buyout turned into an unexpected thriller after several land owners refused the deal. Some of their neighbours who received financial compensation set out to persuade the dissenters and even sent out anonymous letters and death threats. Czech filmmaker Vít Klusák captured the developments in his latest film All for the Good of the World and Nosovice that premiered October 28 at the Jihlava IDFF, competing in the Czech Joy section. The film also received a nomination for the Silver Eye Award organized by the East Silver Market (Oct 25-31).
What made you pick this subject?
Journalist Ivan Hoffman probably summed it up the best in his commentary when he described the developments in Nošovice as "matter-of-fact misery". It's the matter-of-fact approach of political representation who make incredible concessions to a multinational company so that it can have its plant right on this spot. It's the matter-of-fact violence against one village justified as public interest. And, finally, it's the matter-of-fact belief that it's a good thing to keep producing so many cars. Czech state has paid subsidies of CZK 4.5 million per job position. I don't understand how this could ever pay off but I imagine it'll never pay off because you can't put a price tag on a huge green area that's been covered up with concrete.
How long did you follow the story?
I first visited Nošovice in 2006 and we shot last footage here earlier this year. I used to go alone, often without a camera, to get to know the locals and to convince them that my interest in the topic was not superficial or dishonest. Our crew spent most of summer 2009 in the village and returned six times after that. We had a total of 60 shooting days. We shot it on film and this method, especially with a stylized documentary, slows you down. But it's for the better: it sharpens your senses, every shot is a big deal, the camera keeps buzzing with a real film reel inside and you know it can't be changed or erased.
Your films made in cooperation with Filip Remunda are often criticized for having an overly one-sided perspective and leaving little space to the opposite camp. Your bias is apparent in this film as well. But can a documentary film be truly objective? Doesn't every film carry the personal stamp and views of the filmmaker?
I don't think that Filip and I make one-sided propaganda pieces. We never use films to illustrate our opinions - we aren't that well educated for that - instead, we view every film as a (re)search. We often let situations play out in their entirety and often point the camera on ourselves, too. We don't hide our imperfection or even awkwardness. We invite all forms of ambivalence that let the viewer know that things are never black and white. This approach isn't just some kind of personal lofty dogma but a basic prerequisite for me to enjoy what I do. I get a little tired of the constant debate over whether documentary films and, especially, author-driven documentary films, should be objective. They cannot, aren't and never will be objective. As long as films aren't made by robots but people limited by their education, talent, morality and experience...
My question was a reference to a comment made by former politician Vladimír Mlynář. According to him, the film is not an invitation to discussion because it's too one-sided and schematic, for example, in pitting the image of bucolic countryside against dehumanized multinationals...
It's not my fault if he considers the countryside poetic and a Hyundai plant with its nimble yellow robots seems to him dehumanized. We didn't push to stress this contrast. To be honest, we really noticed it in the editing room. Moreover, for Nošovice residents this film may be the only tool that could help them to think about what really happened in their village.
I believe that the clear perspective helped to generate the debate as a kind of provocation. Was it your intention to present a strong view that would propel public debate?
I don't think about these things ahead of time - I don't plan what to do to get the most fuss out of it. What I don't like is when people pretend to be all polite and obedient. If I were to make a film about loan sharks, I wouldn't ask them if they don't consider their behaviour non-standard business practice. I would simply ask them why they choose to steal. It's not my fault if someone views my straightforward questions as provocation. It would be hypocrisy to hide that I openly side with those who for a very long time defended the field over the plant.
Your films show a great amount of activism. Do you consider documentary films to be the right tool for pointing out issues and looking for solutions? Film as civic responsibility, investigative report or a protest against injustice?
For me, the meaning of both documentary and feature films or any creative act for that matter is in the attempt to break down stereotypes, overcome cliches, mend mistakes and reconcile, and in a playful way tackle life. The kind of activism, such as signing petitions, isn't really my thing but sometimes you can't really avoid it.
It's clear from the beginning that you take the side of the locals who were forced to sell their land. What do you think of the argument that the plant has also created a lot of jobs in a region that's trying to battle huge unemployment?
That's only half the truth. Out of nearly 1000 residents of Nošovice, only three work at the plant. There are independent studies that show that the financial benefit of the project will at best be zero. The CzechInvest agency initially recommended three locations for the Hyundai plant, out of which two were brownfields, i.e., places that have already been affected by industrial use. Yet the South Koreans wanted to build the plant near the mountains because it was cheaper and because the gods in the mountains would bring them good luck. I also think it's important to realize that the plant doesn't offer any new skills because most of the employees perform such simple tasks that there's no qualifications to speak of. I don't understand why people keep talking about the quantity instead of the quality of job opportunities!
The film shows that not every resident wanted to speak with you right away. Considering you were on their side, what caused the initial lack of trust?
When they started buying out the fields that now house the plant, an army of journalists and reporters swept through Nošovice and they weren't really considerate. They would imply or just bluntly describe the locals as bumpkins who out of naive nostalgia go against public interest and the largest investment in Czech history. Even Czech TV ran reports on the news that showed grey fields and a tractor plough, with the overvoice saying: "Will things stay as they are or will Nošovice have a modern car plant that will give jobs to 3000 people?" So we had to go there many times, even without a camera, to convince the locals that we're not going to portray them as backward bumpkins. Apart from this mistrust, there was a strong feeling of shame. They were ashamed that they couldn't take the pressure and sold their land. Many of them still can't come to terms with it.
In a very playful way, your films use a certain amount of humour and irreverence (e.g., the commercial for Nošovice sauerkraut at the end of this film or the "radar-themed" music video in Czech Peace). To what extent is form important to you?
Extremely important. Films are more likely to get my attention with their form rather than the story, even though - as they teach you at any film school - form cannot be divided from content. But in the two cases you've mentioned, we didn't make the genre break for the sake of entertainment but to point out - without commentary - the real nature of the issue which we were dealing with. Thanks to the sauerkraut commercial, you finally realize that Hyundai's PR crap sound very much like communist rhetoric and that it's totalitarianism of its own kind.
In the end, did you organize the screening for Kim Eokjo, head Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Czech Kima Eokjo?
We didn't. Hyundai officials refused to sign a trivial agreement that would bind them to confidentiality about the content of the film until its premiere despite the fact they agreed with the text of the terms over the phone. They lured us out to Nošovice though; eighteen Korean managers in suits were waiting for us in a luxury screening room and apart from the projection screen each of them had his own big display. Hyundai's lawyer then unsuccessfully negotiated with our lawyer for three hours and in the end we gave up and left. They at least received the dialogue list so they know what the film is all about.
Hyundai representatives have already contacted you in the matter. Do you feel any pressure from them from, let's say, limited exposure for the film?
They tried to intimidate Czech Television which received a letter from prof. JUDr. Jan Kříž, Hyundai's attorney. He requested a copy of the film for his clients prior to any public screening. Czech TV and especially their legal department approached the whole thing with an unusual amount of courage and told him that they should talk to the producers, i.e., me and Filip.
Considering the success of your films in South Korea (e.g., awards for Czech Peace at the DMZ Documentary Festival and for Czech Dream at the Jeonju IFF), your film could have some impact on Hyundai. Do you believe that in the end the film could actually change something, e.g., conditions at the plant?
I'd be glad. It's not just the fact that they bully the employees. I wish the film had the power to make someone from Hyundai's management realize that a car plant has no place on a fertile field and that it should never happen again. That might even make me happy.