INTERVIEW with Jaro Vojtek, script writer, director and cinematographer of the film
Where did the idea for “Here We Are“ come from?
Andrej Bán who works as a photographer in the Človek v ohrození (People in Peril), humanitarian organization called one day and told me about a family of foreign Slovaks from Kazakhstan who arrived to Slovakia. On St.Nicholas Day, December 6, they rang his door bell and said: “Here we are!“ Back in Kazakhstan, they sold all they had, and arrived to Slovakia just with bags in their hands. They expected someone here would take care of them, give them work and an apartment, and they would live like ordinary people. Yet, reality was quite different… Our legislation, unlike legislations in our neighbouring countries, does not offer any support. And so from night to morning, the family found themselves in the position of immigrants. This absurd situation inspired me to make a film about their story.
Back then, I had no idea how long they would stay here, whether a month, or more. Eventually, I was shooting for more than four years.
In your view, what is most important in this film?
“My zdes“ is a film about courage. I admired what these people did for their children. They sold everything and left for an unknown country. I would not be able to do such brave thing, I guess. They became my heroes, and gradually also my friends.
You worked not only as a film director, but also as a cinematographer
and sound mixer. Why?
Right after Kazakhs arrived to Slovakia, Mario Homolka worked with camera. Later on he produced the film. However, quite soon it became clear that it would be better, both for the quality of the film as for the more intimate atmosphere, if I take the camera and shoot all by myself. In this case, we preferred power of the story to the form… On the other hand, the outcome of the film is significantly marked by work of my closest colleagues. Writer and consultant (dramaturgist) of the story Marek Leščák found an optimum film structure, and editor Maroš Šlapeta cut the material into a smooth result.
It is not quite usual these days to distribute documentary film.
How can “Here We Are” address current cinema goers?
Yes, distribution of a documentary is almost a miracle in Slovakia, even though in other countries it is quite usual. Our film can address an audience with its powerful story that can remind us of our recent past. Our people used to leave for western countries to give their lives, or lives of their children, a new sense. They emigrated into unknown countries and felt lost.
Another interesting part in this film is a picture of Slovaks and Slovakia seen through eyes of foreigners, people with a different cultural background.
It seems that as a EU member we are not prepared for immigrants. We are too self-absorbed, and the theme that is so vibrant in other European countries, is swept under the carpet in our country.
INTERVIEW with Marek Leščák, scriptwriter and consultant
You write scripts for feature films. Why did you enter into the
field of documentary?
For me, documentary is an equal counterpart to fiction, also thanks to people like film director Jaro Vojtek and editor Maroš Šlapeta.
“Here We Are” is an extraordinary film, since it tells – in a very natural and understandable way – a powerful story, yet even many feature films miss good stories.
Shooting took four years. You had a lot of material. How can you
put four years of shooting into eighty minutes?
This was probably the toughest task to do. Eventually we decided to construct the film as a chronological narration of an authentic story of Dimitrij and his wife and children. We focused on them, even though other family members moved over, too, during shooting the film. Finally there were around twenty people here, each of them carrying their own individual stories that would easily make their own films each.
What was so appealing about Dimitrij?
We decided for Dimitrij and his family since he took the main responsibility on his shoulders from the beginning. He was the first one who sold all his property, packed his wife and children and arrived to Slovakia where he knew no one.
Moreover, Dimitrij has a great gift of an easygoing man. He was not scared of camera, and gradually, camera became a filter for all his fears, joy, and despair of a man who is loosing himself in a strange world.
You had to cut the film from enormous 130 hours!
We owe for this luxury that caused us huge suffering in the editing room to Jaro and his working method that can be described as “Do not hesitate and shoot!” which means that Jaro shoots everything and all the time.
On the other hand, he was able to catch tiny details and unexpected moments that are unrepeatable – unlike feature film. For instance Dimnitrij´s argument with his wife, or his journey through steppe, with his brother. By the way, Jaro taped about 30 hours from Dimitrij´s trip to Kazakhstan, which would be enough for a bizarre travel film.
When selecting material, many scenes had to be left out. What do
you miss most?
(laughter) I miss some of Jaro´s questions for Kazakhs. He claimed he spoke Russian, even though I found no sense in it and did not understand a thing. Yet I don’t know how, but he got answers to all of his his “Russian” questions.
However, I hope we use them one day. Jaro, Maroš Šlapeta and I decided to return to this in the future.
INTERVIEW with Andrej Bán, author of the story
How did you come to the story of “Here We Are”?
I came to this story – and to the Kazakh family – by a coincidence. One morning in early December 2000, they rang my door bell and said: “Here we are.” There were Dimitrij, his wife Anna, their children Dima, Soňa, Oľga, Nataša and Anna´s sister Táňa. Of course, it was not all that simple. This family has already addressed many Slovak institutions with the request for repatriation. They saw how the Czech government helped their Czech neighbours from Kazakhstan to repatriate. However, our government or authorities did not respond to their letters, and so the family wrote to the humanitarian organization Človek v ohrození (People in Peril) where I am the chairman. We replied that we had no work or accommodation for them yet could help them with some advice and contacts, and then we suggested one of them should arrive in advance. Well, and so they came, not one, but seven people… And told us they had already sold all their property, and had only few thousand dollars in their pockets and wanted to live in Slovakia. They seemed to me very honest and hard-working, and I was not mistaken in my impression, and so my colleagues, friends and I decided to help them. On the very first day, I contacted Jaro Vojtek with whom I have already cooperated in the past. He found this theme attractive and so the film was made.
What did they have to go through?
I guess that our film shows that best: uprooting, breaking all ties to their homeland, where their children had no perspective. Awakening from illusions they had about new country, in this case about Slovakia. Many good people who helped them, and many bureaucratic procedures ruining their nerves and last savings. And last but not least, it is a belief they do all this for their own children, to make their lives better and happier… and this is what keeps them going.
INETRVIEW with Maroš Šlapeta, film editor
What was most difficult on “Here We Are” for you as a film editor?
It was an extremely difficult project. We had an immense amount of material growing during four years to some 130 hours. This was caused by a method of continuous shooting, as well as by having the family archives of the Krnáč family at our disposal. Dimitrij´s father in law and “father of the clan” taped material that would be enough for a full-length film, itself. This may seem as an advantage – it is better if you have enough material to choose from. However, this freedom is very deceiving! Working with so much material is truly difficult and time-consuming. Jaro Vojtek and Marek Leščák would certainly confirm how much time we spent in the editing room to “slim down” the material. At this type of project, it was also important not to loose track and define the key for material selection. In the end, we had a two-and-a-half-hour-long version. However, this “Indian” format would not be acceptable by our viewers, and so we cut it into a standard full-length film.
It is not often, that a script writer is sitting in the editing
room together with the editor and director of the film. What was
your co-operation with Jaro Vojtek and Marek Leščák like?
We have been working together on more projects, and I have a feeling we are a good team. Once after a rather stormy discussion in the editing room, producer Mário Homolka asked me how it worked among us, who had the final say. And I told him we had a democracy and vote. But to be honest, if one of us is convinced about his truth, he would try hard and convince the other two, until those two finally agree with him. This is far from democracy, I guess…
Anyway we all have very similar approach to film, and usually agree without arguments. I had a great time working on this film, and I am sure this positive energy can be felt from the result.
It is rather unique in Slovakia if a documentary makes it to the
celluloid and cinemas. What technology did you use for this project?
We used a standard DV camera, suitable for intimate shooting of sensitive and emotional scenes, not disturbing “heroes” by large crew. This material together with VHS archives taped by Stano Krnáč was then copied on 35mm film. The result is a very special visual “culture” of the film. In the final stage, we co-operated with a great cinematographer Tomáš Sabo, who made colour corrections of a very diverse material. Final distribution format required a certain level of sound quality. This was perfectly managed by the sound designer Marek Lacena.