Miro Remo: I like films that are powerfull (copy 1)

Slovak director Miro Remo sat down with Tomáš Hučko of DOKO to talk about his latest documentary film and his approach to filmmaking. Since its release in October 2009, Remo's Arsy-Versy has been picking up awards at film festivals around the world, with late April screenings scheduled at the San Francisco IFF and Hot Docs.

The interview was first published on Tomáš Hučko's website DOKO (in Slovak).

Whether documentary or fiction, a film must simply be good. An interview with Miro Remo

How did you come across the idea to make this film anyway? [Arsy-Versy, ed. note]

I needed a proposal for my fourth year film. After Cold Joint [Mr Remo's first film, ed. note], I didn't feel like making another sad and somewhat brutal film. Clearly, these things are everywhere around us but as a result, documentary films seem to be losing anything that is good. Plus, all these documentaries seem to parade a sort of underlying ridicule, irony as they always laugh at the protagonist... He's the loser so let's at least laugh at him and pat ourselves on the shoulder because we're better.

In my film, the viewer gets to know an apparent nerd but soon finds out that although Lubos's personality is peculiar and may well contain elements of madness, he isn't at all crazy. Viewers are able to identify with him and they discover that his rhetorical questions or monologues provide some space for identification.

The film touches on very current issues. There is an interesting contrast between the mother and the son. The old woman lives in a rational world full of common problems, in a world we were brought up to live in - one should get a job and adopt other stereotypes to secure easy survival, etc. Lubos stands on the opposite end - he won't submit to any of this but there is a price to pay, for instance, he's making his mother unhappy... People often ask about the truth in this film. Some people ask why the film gives space to madness over pragmatism. 

Do they complain that you're siding with madness?

Well, complain might be a bit too strong but the viewers ask and try to find their way in the film because it doesn't have all the answers. Yes, we root for madness but it seems to me that too many films today are a way too rational. They are heavy with everyday banality, there's nothing exceptional about them and they're always on the side of reason. Yet film can also side with emotions. And by emotions I mean love or passion for something... We're used to reason winning most of the time in life. In films I prefer when emotions have the upper hand. I like films that are emotional.

I agree that the old woman is rational but I think that everyone must admire her tolerance, at least I do. She prefers traditional patterns of life as you mention but it's amazing that she's able to accept the odd life of Lubos. She simply loves him.

Sure. That's also why we used the tune from the Space Odyssey. Their bond is so strong that it overcomes any problems and allows Lubos to fully develop his talent. Photographs and other works he's made are unique and very inspiring. Only a truly free spirit could make these pieces. When we were shooting the film, it was great fun. It was different from the way films are usually shot. He still has all the playfulness and childlike nature and that's really good. Even though he's 50 years old, he's viewing the world around him with much younger eyes. That's what makes him such an incredible and intriguing character. Besides, playfulness is a great thing for any film!

You're not hiding the fact that your film is largely a reenactment and that you recreate the life of your protagonist from several years ago. Why didn't you make a film on Lubos as he is today?

Lubos dedicated some 30 years of his life to the research of bats. It was an intensive passion for about ten years, sometime around 1995 he switched to orchids and today he is involved with newts. Since he was a little boy, he's been studying various animals, starting with frogs and moving on to lynx, Rosalia longicorns and many others... Of course, ants in the garden were used in the film. In the end, we decided to go with the bat because it works also as a certain metaphor. Bats view the world from a different angle, not unlike the avid researcher. There's nothing better than when a film arrives to this sort of symbiosis. It's a very pure, real metaphor, a documentary metaphor.

Orchids don't make for a good metaphor, I take it...

Orchids don't offer the inverted look... That's why we have the very last shot that turns 180 degrees and we must stop to ask: Who is looking the wrong way? Lubos or his mother?

The whole film seems spontaneous and natural, despite the fact that I imagine there was a great deal of cooperation going on with the protagonists, especially Lubos. You say that you had to recreate a lot of things because they're no longer current. I think that the film is still authentic because it recreates only external forms and expressions, and not the essence or meaning. The protagonist still has all the latter even if he no longer tracks down bats but plants orchids.

Yet the very last shot seems a bit too calculated to me. The director's hand feels too heavy at that point, and although his style may seem interesting, the content is less so. It seems a little too simplistic. I grasped everything even without this forced punch line, I don't need to be spoon-fed. I can appreciate the brilliance of the last shot but it is a way too perfect...

Well, it's my favourite shot of the entire film. The scene is just great and one day I'd like to make a film composed only of scenes like this one.

Let me mention some other scenes which I liked better, for instance, when Lubos says that people just lust after money, drugs and sex and then asks: "And who will document the bats?" There's a bit of philosophy or poetry in that.

Yes, his line about the ants was also good: "People need to have everything digital... They need all kinds of things in their lives, digital stuff, but ants don't need anything at all." It all seems light-hearted but he's onto something. We really do need things, struggle to get things which we don't need to survive. And to what purpose?

And another scene which I want to point out is even more valuable to me than the final shot.

Lubos in the mining shaft..?

No, while looking at the photos that are hanging to dry, mother asks Lubos: "And when were these made?" And he isn't sure, after decades spent upside down... And the whole time we see the mother as she's puzzling over the pictures. That's simply ingenious...

Yeah, that's a touching, real-life scene. You can't make that up. The woman's reaction is genuine. Well, we played around with the editing a little because Lubos was behind the camera and we made it look as if he was replying from behind a tree. It's a nice scene and it captured a beautiful moment.

But you're still sure about the final shot as well?

Yes, I believe there are two types of shots. The one with the mother is a shot in which we just placed the camera and captured a beautiful documentary moment. We managed to capture something that's truly valuable, more so than any staged element. But for the last shot we made two days of preparations and one day of shooting. That's the result of the work of the whole crew, that was my input as a director and filmmaker.

I don't consider the mere recording of reality - good as it may be - too difficult so that's why I prize the other scene much more. There's a lot of work behind it but, more importantly, there's a lot of meaning in it, too. I like films that are full of movement, when the movement of the camera is well thought out. There's probably an element of fiction in that, which is fine with me.

I find a lot of this in American films, for instance. It's a great device and one that requires a solid budget. And a good idea, I'll give you that... But the elements in your film which I mentioned, they need a creative filmmaker. That's why I like documentaries that can be made for peanuts. It isn't that easy to find the right approach to people, to protagonists. I think that's more difficult than to devise a complex scene and to prepare it for two days.

You need to establish relationships, no doubt, that's the first and foremost. But once I have that, I still feel the need to modify and shape the material into a different form. It makes me feel that we've done a better job... And this quality also separates it from a conventional documentary film which merely records and edits reality. I always feel the need to express the creative element of filmmaking, it's actually in at least 50 percent of the film, even if it may be less noticeable sometime.

Lubos's scenes in the film are entirely reenacted. The film isn't fiction yet but compared to Cold Joint, it is maybe five times closer to fiction. It employs a different approach in which we don't wait to see what happens next but, instead, we control each shot and we know when and what to shoot next. We don't shoot ad hoc scenes and wait what the outcome will be like. Although, there may be three or four accidental scenes like that as well...

Lubos's lines weren't scripted though?

No, his lines didn't follow a script. I did write something in advance, things I wanted him to say or subjects I wanted him to address and I tried to write it in some detail but in the end I found out that I wasn't able to put it down on paper nearly as well as Lubos was able to say it himself. Yet it seemed important to have at least the outline of topics so that I could guide him through the interview. If I hadn't prepared anything and if we had tried to think something up on the spot, I know it would've gone wrong and we would've ended up shooting something entirely different.

Lubos has the gift of eloquence. And his mother as well. Both of them can - in their own distinct way - tell gripping stories and the way they complement each other makes the film very interesting. 

Arsy-Versy is a successful festival film. I hear it has been awarded at sixteen festivals.

Yes, we celebrated award number 16 a week ago. It collected two awards at one festival so we now have fifteen festival wins. Since October, the film has screened at some twenty festivals around the world. Slovak TV ran the film March 6 and it was odd because it was on Lubos's 50th birthday.


You're currently making your diploma film. What's it about?

It will probably be called Comeback and it will be set in prison. The subject is prisoner reeintegration. As prisoners are released, we will follow their efforts to reenter society. We're now shooting inside the prison, making interviews with inmates who are about to be released.

That seems like a conventional social subject that doesn't promise much creativity...

I believe it does. We're trying to make this one even closer to narrative film than Arsy-Versy. Documentary film is our starting point and we still think that people's views and statements are important. Reality is the essence because the things it has to offer are much more interesting than what we're able to come up with. We're gradually getting to know the environment. We also write the script as we go. Scriptwriter Juraj Šlauka is the co-author. On the other hand, we try to shape reality in such a way so as to make it more appealing to audiences. We want to maintain a clear storyline so that the viewer doesn't just get too many interviews and we will try to keep the editing in check, which is again closer to narrative film.

What will you do after school? How do you think will you be able to utilize your talent? I'm afraid that it is nearly impossible in Slovakia to make a career in documentary film. There may be some countries where filmmakers can earn enough money and, at the same time, apply their creativity in documentary film, but not in Slovakia. Are you prepared to pay the price for sticking with documentary film?

I believe that the right trend is to move closer to feature film. As the differences between the genres become less apparent, these border films can compete alongside features. Some festivals had a problem with Cold Joint, which I consider a clear-cut case, but some festivals still weren't quite sure whether it was a documentary film or a feature. To me, it's clearly a documentary film. I'd like to say that it's fiction but I just don't feel it that way. Some festivals opted to screen the film in the section with narrative films anyway.

It isn't my aim to choose either fiction or documentary films, I don't care. I simply want to make films that convey some emotions which I want to examine or show. If you can produce a more powerful and better effect in a feature film or a staged scene, I'll surely take that option. I don't see any strict line between documentary and fiction film. I can't say that I'm purely a documentarian or a fiction filmmaker. I don't really know how to label myself and I don't think it should be important.

I like films that make it impossible to tell. Take, for example, Kusturica's Time of the Gypsies [Dom za vesanje, ed. note]. The film is set in a Roma settlement and it strikes me as impossible that thirty Romas could've been directed to act the way they did. In one scene, a house is lifted by a crane and the protagonists find themselves in a house with no walls. It's a strange scene but feels so authentic that I don't believe it was all acting. It may be that fifteen people were guided in a documentary style and seven or eight actors were included to complement the group. It's a very peculiar method that was once used by Forman. I think it offers an interesting approach for filmmakers today, or perhaps it's just a return to the 1960s... Back then, Forman used to make remarkable films in this way and Kusturica still knew how to make them in the 1990s. I believe this door still remains open. 

To read the full interview in Slovak, please visit