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Interview with Jan Hrebejk



Interview with Jan Hrebejk (Director)

Up and Down is your first film that takes place in the present...
We wrote the screenplay very naturally. Petr Jarchovský told me the story of a lost child that came to him when he was watching a report on television about refugees. I remembered the story of my friend, a Czech from L.A., about his emigration thirty years ago. We added a few true stories that we experienced or had heard of and made the rest up. Basically, we put it together when we were working on the screenplay to our film Pupendo.

Your themes, even though they have a comic spark, are always very serious: (Big Beat, dealing with the totalitarian 50s, Cosy Dens, with the occupation in 1968, Pupendo, the normalization of the 70s). In Up and Down, it’s racism and xenophobia.
We never said: “Now we’ll make a film about the Holocaust or the occupation.” We were always intrigued by a certain character or story. Up and Down was the same case. We always look for something attractive in our stories and, in the end, the characters whose story we are telling are the most attractive. History goes on around our little characters. In a sense, it’s a sort of plebeian view of the world. Our heroes don’t make history; instead, they are usually its victims.  

Why did you cast the then president Václav Havel in your film?
The Burmese dissident couple in our film was inspired by my wife’s work for Amnesty International. At the time, she worked on an exhibition of photographs on Burma held under the aegis of President Václav Havel.  I knew that his modest participation in the film could contribute to the believability of this motif.  

Can you categorize your new film or describe your inspiration?
Personally, the stream of British cinematography represented by Mike Leigh’s Secrets andLies and Stephan Daldry’sBilly Elliot is close to me. That’s contemporary cinematography that is admired and I have a similar type of speech. I also consider the work of Woody Allen and Miloš Forman to be masterful. But our main inspiration is what we see around us and not what we see in the theater.  

How did you choose the music to Up and Down?
The author of the music is my long-time friend and collaborator AlešBřezina, who did the music forDivided We Fall. We always admired the film music of Goran Bregovič and thanks to his assistant, Slobodan Dedejič (who has worked for the last 20 years with Emir Kusturica), we, even before the film was made, got to meet a number of top-notch Serbian musicians.

Your films always have great actors. Is this true of the new film?  
Besides Jan Tříska (a great Czech film and theater star of the 1960s who now lives in L.A.), Miloš Forman’s son, Petr Forman, and Slovak actress EmíliaVášáryová, who first appeared in VojtěchJasný’sWhen The Cat Comes,which won three major awards at the Cannes film festival in 1964, appear in the lead roles.

Where did you shoot and what method did you use?
Cinematographer Jan Malíř and I filmed in real apartments and on the streets in the center of Prague this time, often in a semi-documentary style under regular conditions. We were inspired by Steven Sonderburg’sTraffic, which I personally consider one of the best films of recent years, in terms of color styles.

Part of the film takes place in Australia. How was it working there?
The Forman family that lives in Brisbane helped us a great deal. Miloš Forman’s brother Pavel and his family have been living there since the end of the 1960s. Some of the scenes were filmed in their backyard. And the old man who appears almost at the end of the film is not Sir Peter Ustinov in his last role, but Pavel Forman in his first.

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