The Filmmaker's Journal (Continued)

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English Spoken Here
April 4, Wednesday

School day. Went with Vladka to her Econ lecture and English class. Good to see before filming-- figure out the lighting. Her English class was interesting. She has a new teacher from England, a young guy probably my age. James. I started the class acting like a Czech student. "My name is David," I said when my turn came. "Good." He said, "You have a good accent."

I couldn't keep it up though. Next question he asked me I told him who I was and what I was doing there. So he had me read a bit of English for the class, and I asked him questions when no one else would. There had been violent political protests in London recently, so I asked "Is there rioting now?" So we talked about "demonstrations" in front of the class.

Really an interesting day. Of course, I wished that I could have been filming everything in the English class-- but that's life. We chatted afterward and went out for a drink. James has only been here for a few weeks, and is a really nice guy. Not Oxford snobby. I have is number. Definitely will call him to get together again. Vladka speaks the best English in the class.

April 15, Easter Sunday

A month and a half to shoot this film. Hmm. I shot a bit at the Park Kultury (a kind of amusement park) with Alice helping me with sound. Definitely enjoy being with her.

Bit of a language problem, but that makes it more romantic. Some good juxtapositions of Vaclav Havel, Bush (1), the Pope and Michael Jackson buttons - all on a tray together. I asked the person who ran the booth if I could film and they said no. So, I started filming anyway, waiting to see if they would stop me. Cause these buttons were too good to pass up. (Especially after having been told no by another booth of iron-ons of Elvis next to Havel! The woman at that booth was standing in front of them so I couldn't catch it even surreptitiously.

Met with Michal Donath, an Associated Press reporter at the Alcron Hotel-- talked about the Czech situation. He's pretty pessimistic. Interesting conversation. Good to talk with him. Gonna call up other journalists. I've got a lot work ahead of me. Free up. Easier Said Than Done.

April 29, Sunday

It's funny. I shoot a lot, feel really good-- satisfied, but when I listen to the cassettes of the interviews at night I don't feel totally satisfied. It falls short of my perception of what I shot. Good, good day, regardless.

Left Prague with Vladka, Radek, his daughter Radka, (from a previous marriage) and their friend Vasek. Full car. Filmed the countryside, stopped at Podebrady-- a small town with well-known mineral water-- and then onto the mountains. Unfortunately I triggered the camera in the car by accident and rolled out-- lost about 60 or 70 feet of film. Pissed me off, but hell, it's hard doing everything in a car full of five people.

Stopped at a ski lift and brought my camera, not knowing what to expect. Glad I did. Interviewed Vladka on the trip up the mountain on the lift. I feel like my questions could be better, but it's hard to know what to ask at all times. Her "Czech people look so tired" remark of many days ago-- I couldn't get her to repeat it on camera. I let stuff slide sometimes when I should pursue them. Partly cause I have so much to think about. The ski lift was a bit dicey; I had to make sure I didn't get drop my light meter or get caught up on the chair with my cables. All in all a very productive day.

A Loss Can Be A Gain
May 28, Monday

Another crazy day. Hurry upped and waited for Vladka. Well, not entirely true. I filmed metro shots this a.m. Discovered the bas relief of Lenin I've been meaning to film at the Leninova metro stop was covered with plywood and election posters. Pissed me off, but I filmed the plywood, realizing that the image said more than if Lenin was still uncovered. Can't jump to hasty conclusions. A "loss" can be a gain.

Dropped off eight rolls of film at FAMU (Academy of Film, Arts and Music where I worked out a film developing deal). Ms. Masikova and the other women in the Production Office were very nice this time-- not busy - thus questioning me on my film, etc. I asked Ms. Masikova if she knew of anyone with film footage of the 1968 Russian invasion, and she tracked down the head of the Film Archives Department who has 200 meters of film that have been hidden under his bed for 22 years. Ms. Masikova was excited about seeing the footage; we'll all screen it next Monday at 11 a.m. Great!

My Last Days
June 22, 23, Friday/Saturday

Killer day Friday. Up at 6 am-- out by 7:15 and filmed till 2 in the afternoon. Tied up the '68 invasion footage deal. Pani (Miss) Masickova typed up my version of a contract and signed it as Mr. Kopka's representative. Hope I get the footage - to be sent after I leave. Shot as much of the city as I could-- couldn't get everywhere I had planned. Exhausting. Left for Pecin (the town near my Grandfather's village where Vladka's father, Vladimir has a house) and realized I had left my AC cord for my light. Set up next to a bright window to interview Vladimir (finally!)-- just about to start and realize I could hear raindrops falling loud and clear on the audio. After much angsting-- finally decided to go to Jirka and Mirek's (Vladimir's brother and sister and law)-- quiet room. Light varied during the interview-- rainy day. First sound problems with people downstairs, then a mill owner who was cutting wood-- Oh well.

Back to Prague on Saturday. Night shoot tonight-- neon signs, trams passing. Finally shot the really long escalator ride down to the metro. No people around.

Tomorrow's my last day. Another busy day - my last.

Glad I Don't Have a Heart Condition
June 25,Sunday

Spoke too soon. Spent last night packing everything after a frantic day of filming in the a.m.-- Radek, Vladka 11 am-- Jirka puts me off until this afternoon (I've been trying to get a formal interview with her for the past three months!) then the evening-- actually 7 pm. Met Carolina, a friend of James, Vladka's English teacher, and interviewed her about her experiences as a subtitle translator for a Kafkaesque government film department. But she wasn't as vivid on camera about her surreal experiences as she was in the pub the other night. Definitely a spark between us-- if I were staying longer...

So-- back to the apartment-- Alice, Vladka's friend, came over around 7:30 to help me translate Jirka's interview. Vladka arrives, decides to stay the evening and not go to Radek's! She wasn't going to be here! How can I ask Jirka hard questions about Vladka? Decide to interview Jirka anyway, starting with non-Vladka questions, while Jirka is in the kitchen - no formal sitdown, like I had planned. Actually it was more interesting this way. Really got good stuff. "Vladimir's never been hungry-- even during the bad times, because he lived in a village where food was always to be had." Vladimir walks in and interrupts-- "Not true!" etc. Good interactions.

Later Jirka goes out into the courtyard to gather laundry off the line-- so I flood my light through the kitchen window, thanks to Alice's push, and we quickly go out and ask her about Vladka and Radek's relationship. Vladka is sitting and reading in the dining room! Crazy-- would have been good to get the stealth and tension of my situation on film. Alice was great-- extremely professional and helpful. It was amazing how well we worked. I asked her if I should roll, cause I couldn't understand what Jirka was saying, whether it was good or not-- sudden shifts of directoral power.

Strange-- the day before I leave (I'll get to that) and we have this great team effort. Bittersweet. So-- I say goodbye to Alice at the tram-- very tender. "Thanks for a nice time," she said. Hug. Kiss. As she got on the tram she smiled and pointed to a cute black baby sitting with his dad in a papoose knapsack. Suddenly lightness broke through the bitterness of the farewell. Smile, wave and she was gone. Packed - MUCH stuff. Then at 3:30 am I flash - Where's my passport? Can't find it. Don't panic. Nope, can't find it.

Upshot... cancel the ticket in a groggy daze (Vladka called for me). Checked at the travel agency-- no, didn't leave it there. Called the American Embassy but no answer, just a machine. They're supposed to be open. Infuriating. Called from the crappy pay phones at the Narodni Trida metro-- they're so screwed up. Calm down. Need photos for new passport. Where? Call again-- get through finally-- find a photo place-- success. Two hour wait for photos. Go to Czech Airlines Office-- change ticket NO CHARGE! Thursday is the soonest flight. Back to get photos, get money for new passport. Embassy two hour wait, chatting with other passport theft victims: pretty girl, Czech, resident of Holland. Voila! Got it! Now just need to fill out a police report. Crazy. Will film newspaper hawkers in Wenceslaus Square tomorrow, since I've got a few extra days now.

The Last Day, Really
June 27, Wednesday

Well, this is it. Shot my very last roll today. Good interview with "the first shoe shine-shoe cleaner in Eastern Europe," as his sign declared in Wencesclaus Square. "On the road to millions." Nice guy. I first thought he wanted money from me for filming him, but no.

Vladka went with me to get my police report. Ended up at a station next to the American Embassy. Painted over socialist soldiers on the walls of a dark, gloomy hall. A very young Aryan-looking boy typed out the "report," basically putting down what we told him to. No official form to follow. I don't know if my passport was lost or stolen. Dropped it off at the embassy. Nice dinner-- fish-- with Jirka-- really a nice last meal. Wish I had been filming it. Met Vladka and Radek for a beer. I leave tomorrow.

Rather daunted by it all.

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