Interview with Michal Blaško & Jakub Viktorín
In 2017, Michal Blaško (*1989) introduced his bachelor degree film Atlantis, 2003 in the Cinéfondation section of the 70th Festival de Cannes. Now he is back to present his upcoming feature debut Victim in L'Atelier, together with producer Jakub Viktorín (*1990). The story of Victim is based on real events and opens a discussion about important social topics. The project has gained international recognition at various co-production markets and forums (coco 2018; WEM W 2019 – FLO W Postproduction Award, EA VE Scholarship; Budapest Debut Film Forum – Award for the Most Promising Project).
Michal, what is it like for you to be back in Cannes after two years? What have you been up to in the meantime?
MB: It's great to be back. Last June, I finished my studies in Film directing at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava. My graduation film The March served in many ways as preparation for my feature debut Victim. The final project showed us on one hand what we can build on, and what doesn't work quite as well on the other. Ever since working on Atlantis, 2003, I have been in touch with producer Jakub Viktorín and scriptwriter Jakub Medvecký. Slowly, in my case still during my university studies, we were preparing everything so we could start shooting Victim in 2019.
Victim is inspired by real events, just like Atlantis, 2003. The protagonists of both films are from Ukraine. Was it planned? What are the ties that link you to the country?
MB: Actually, both films have more in common, but in the end, it is just a coincidence. Ukraine is becoming a close partner of Slovak cinema, mostly due to the success of The Line (d. Peter Bebjak, 2017). That is also the reason why we are shooting Slovak- Ukrainian historical drama TV series The Slavs in Ukraine during summer. I am convinced there will be more similar mutual projects made in the near future. The Ukrainian origin of the protagonists is a key aspect for Victim and is tied, as a part of the minority nationality to Czech Republic, to the region where the story is set.
To what extent do you let the producer intervene in the creative process?
MB: Jakub gave us his full trust from the very beginning of the script writing process. It's crucial that when we talk about Victim, we all see the same film, so the communication among the entire team is very beneficial and moves the film forward.
Jakub, after Teo Kuhn’s successful debut By A Sharp Knife, you are developing another debut with Michal. Both projects are dealing with important social topics and are inspired by real events in Slovakia. Are these similarities just a coincidence? According to which criteria do you choose your projects?
JV: It is important for me as a producer not only to find a story I like, but a storypresenting a subject matter important (for the director), who has to be able and ready to work on it for several years. The topic of Victim is a strong at multiple levels and it works very well in a fiction film. That was appealing to me. Nevertheless, the similarities between the two projects are coincidental. I look for strong stories and always try to envision how the stories can work for its potential audience. Since it is quite a long process to make a film in our environment, I see as very important that the main authors have a strong motivation to finish the project. The same applies to me of course.
As a producer, how much do you intervene in the creative process of filmmaking?
JV: I don't like to call it intervening in the creative process. It's much more about the dialogue with the director and the scriptwriter. The most important thing is that we all know and agree what the project is about and how we want to make it. Afterwards, the authors have full creative freedom but we keep the discussion opened throughout the whole process. As I've already mentioned, making a film takes long, therefore it is very important to regularly reassure each other that we are all still on the same page.
You have pitched Victim at several co-production markets and forums, often bringing home awards too. How did it help the project and what are your expectations from L'Atelier?
JV: The above-mentioned platforms brought international awareness to the project which has helped us finding partners, just like our Ukrainian co-producers or potential new partners from Germany and France. From L'Atelier we expect the possibility to consult the project with a wider professional audience and to present it to the public in order to prepare the ground for the international premiere of the film.
MB: Taking into account that we start shooting in mid-October, participation in L'Atelier is very encouraging and at the same time, it gives us a great starting position for future negotiations with distributors and sales agents. For many crew members this will be the debut feature as well, therefore every success in the pre-production stage comes as an encouragement. We really hope that the resulting film will meet the expectations and at the same time bring something new into Slovak film.