Saturday, July 9, 2011


Slovakia: Luník IX housing estate as documented by Michelle Coomber and Dana Wilson
Prague, 4.7.2011 19:11, (ROMEA)

An interview with the filmmakers about talented children who can handle more than others.
Luník IX - trailer


Q: Luník IX is your third film about the situation of Romani people in Central Europe. What brought you to this topic?

A: The original idea was to document the story of how a nursery school at the Luník IX housing estate in Slovakia had great potential to change the lives of its pupils. From the wonderful works that hang everywhere along the walls of the nursery school it is obvious that these are unbelievably talented children, but they are living in an environment of deprivation, extremely high unemployment, and a lack of opportunity. We wanted to know whether the nursery school could help them fulfill their potential.
The Luník IX neighborhood illustrates the segregation of the majority population from Romani people in Slovakia, but we were especially captivated by the very local form of that segregation: It's a mere six kilometers from the center of town, but many local people do not even know it exists. We wanted to make a film that would testify as to what it is like in this little-known place, to the difficulties the local children face, but to do it in such a way that viewers could feel close to them, that it's somehow familiar - to show all the joy and the obstacles that everyone forgets about their own school years, and to remind viewers that every single one of these children deserves a chance.

Q: When did you first learn of the nursery school at Luník IX?

A: I came to Košice in 2008 when I was doing research for our previous documentary film, "Trial of a Child Denied" [about Romani women subjected to forced sterilization - Editors]. During that visit I met Kristína Magdolenová of the Roma Press Agency, who suggested I stay a few weeks and visit some of the Romani communities in eastern Slovakia. During that visit she showed me the nursery school. It was one of her favorite places and she was very proud of it.

Q: What was your first visit to the nursery school at Luník IX like?

A: When she took me to Luník IX, I had no idea where I was going. She said it was a surprise. We parked close by and walked across the main yard, past the painted bars and through the heavy metal door into the nursery school. On the way to the classroom I walked past two rooms, with many painted portraits and little benches lining the children's cloakroom. The children all greeted us with a chorus of "Hello!" and stopped playing for a moment in order to welcome us. Before my guide led me through the hallway to the main staircase that connects the three blocs of the nursery school, we walked through a small labyrinth of rooms. As I walked down the hallway, barely lit by dim fluorescent lamps and thin strips of light from the cracks between the tin walls, I was surrounded by the exhibited work of the children and the international awards they had won – the four seasons done in painting, cotton and wool - and I could hear the hollow echoes of the games being played outside in the yard. The whole corridor resonated with those sounds. You definitely cannot convey something like that with photographs only. At that moment I clearly imagined the film.

Q: People living at Luník IX are considered a very closed community, not trusting of outsiders. Your film includes some very private scenes from the lives of the protagonists. How did your crew succeed in gaining their trust?

A: We filmed over a very long period of time so people could get used to us. In such a small, tight-knit community, where everyone talks to everyone else, it was key to maintain openness, trust and respect for everyone we came into contact with. Naturally, the nursery school made our access to the families much easier, they gave the parents a kind of "guarantee" about us - especially Eva Žigová, a local resident who works at the nursery school, which her grandchildren attend. She first visited the families we wanted to talk with and explained what we were doing. Not all of them said yes, but most enjoyed the filming. We heard about journalists who travel to Luník IX to film sensationalist things, who ask people to do stuff like throwing a television out of a window so they can show the neighborhood as chaotic and violent, but when people heard what our film was about and found out that we weren't interested in that angle, they were willing to open up to us and we could tell their stories.

Q: Even though a nursery school is the center of interest in your film, it still manages to represent the most burning problems that Luník IX is encountering, without exaggerating the violent side of life, which the media most often concentrates on there. As documentary filmmakers attempting to follow the details, weren't you present for such situations of conflict?

A: We knew we wanted to provide a balanced, sensitive portrait of the neighborhood, one which would not avoid its difficulties, but which would refrain from any clearly negative images, as I mentioned. Nevertheless, there was a need to mention their problems so the context in which the children live and the nursery school operates would be clear. At its core, this is a film about a nursery school and some of its pupils. Had we concentrated on the neighborhood itself, especially on its violent side, a completely different film would have resulted.

Q: Thanks to the local nursery school the children have more hope of achieving a better education and developing their talent. However, in your film we can sense uncertainty about their actual future. Do you intend to follow the destinies of these children into the future?

A: I think that would be a fabulous project. In Britain there is an excellent, very famous series of documentary films, "Up Series", focusing on the changing life destinies of a group of British children year after year, and this has been done in many forms around the world. However, right now we aren't planning such a project. We are both involved in projects in different parts of the world.

Q: Which festivals have you entered the film Luník IX in? Where will we be able to see it next?

A: We submitted it to DOK Leipzig and to Jihlava and we hope it will be screened at both. In the next few months there will be several other festivals, but those two are the most likely places it will be screened.

Luník IX - trailer
Michal Kriz, translated by Gwendolyn Albert

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