Interview with Martin Gonda
Martin Gonda (*1990) is a graduate of the Film and Television Faculty of the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava, where he received his master's degree in Film and TV Directing. He spent several months at production company Atelier de Film in cooperation with Caragiale Academy of Theater Arts and Cinematography in Bucharest through the Erasmus Internship Programme, where he worked as a production assistant on various commercial projects. Furthermore, he was a head of programming at Arkadia Short Film Fest. Currently, Martin is working on a TV documentary cycle and preparing his feature debut.
Where did the title Pura Vida come from?
While finishing the script, I read an interview with Werner Herzog where he mentioned “Pura Vida”, which he understands as life in its simplicity and roughness. It’s the same as when you use simple sentences without any decorations – they are direct and genuine and pure and true. Suddenly I felt this was the key to our story.
We don’t see that often a young director making a film about kids and teenagers in rural areas. What inspired you to make the film?
It started with an idea that was supposed to be Dominika Udvorková's graduation script, in which an adult man tries to cope with the death of his brother who died when they were kids. Together with Martin Šuster, we were trying to adapt this story into a short film, but after a while we realized that we were more interested in the relationship between the protagonists than in one person’s coping mechanisms. As we knew more about kids and their world, it was easier for us to develop young characters so we started to focus on their childhood. Social inequality and poverty came into the script only later.
Why did you set the story to Carpathian Ruthenia, the border area between Slovakia and Ukraine?
We wanted the story to take place in a neglected and “forgotten” region even though in the film, the location itself is not exactly specified. My family has an old house in Ulič Valley in the eastern part of Slovakia, home to a strong community of Rusyns. I used to spend my summer holidays there and saw people selling smuggled cigarettes, heard stories about human trafficking or about villagers finding old unexploded mines in the fields. We were running around with local kids, trying to find mines, helmets or badges from WWI and WWII which could be later sold.
Moved by all those local stories, we decided to set our film there. It was all in front of our eyes. We could see how herd mentality and depression coming from material uncertainty and harsh everyday reality impacts the brothers in our story, how they are ostracized on every level of their social life for something that is beyond their influence.
How did you find the non-actors for your film?
First of all, we knew we didn’t want actors who’d had any experience with acting, be it theatre or art school. We wanted people who live what they act. We organized castings in almost all schools in the region, where we did various exercises with the kids to see how they move, how perceptive they are, how they can improvise and learn. We were also interested in a specific type of personality. For example, when casting a bully, we were looking for guys who were tough at first look, informal leaders in class who were not afraid of us or any other “authority” – of course, this was their protective shell, they were basically nice guys. This way we chose some 15 boys and went on hanging out with them and talk or just play football.
On the set, they always knew what the scene was about and its general outline. But we never told them what to do exactly, just gave them some hints. I believe if we forced them to learn every line from the script, the film would end up with the worst type of theatrical acting.
Pura Vida is your graduation film, what are your next plans? While researching in the region we found new stories worth turning into a film.
The most touching one was the story of the displacement of seven Rusyn villages because a new dam was being built in the area. There are various ways we can approach it and we are yet to decide which one will be the best – we can follow the people who lost the houses they had been building for years and generations, or we can focus on artists who were documenting the situation at the time… We want to start with a documentary, which was already supported by Slovak Audiovisual Fund, about the displacement of one of the villages. The idea is that this way we can dig deeper and prepare for the fiction feature we would like to make afterwards.