Ivana Laučíková (1977) is a Slovak animated film director, producer, university lecturer and editor in chief of the animated film journal Homo Felix. June 2011 saw the release of Posledný autobus (The Last Bus), a short film she produced and co-directed with Martin Snopek.
Today, the film is enjoying a successful run on the international festival circuit: it has won the Animateka festival in Slovenia, Ljubljana and was awarded a Youth Jury Prize at the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival. The Grand Prix at the Tampere Film Festival (7. – 11. 3. 2012) is the latest great news. Due to the award, the film will also be considered for an Oscar in the short film category.
The Grand Prix at the Tampere Film Festival is another award for The Last Bus from the one of the most important short film festivals in the world. How do you feel about it?
My team and I are very happy. The Last Bus was made under tough conditions, production was marred with troubles and outsiders’ scepticism right up to the last moment. Great festival awards prove for us that we have believed in the right thing and give us satisfaction.
Can you tell us more about the troubles you experienced during production? How long did you work on the film?
Most of our troubles had to do with our chosen shooting method. Martin Snopek came up with a story, where live actors would act in animal masks and would be photographed like stop motion puppets by pixilation, frame by frame. Since it was an exterior shooting with rough autumn weather and there would occasionally be up to 12 actors on the spot, this proved to be impossible. So we changed a few things: we photographed motion with the camera, but in series, 3 frames per second. The actors moved very slowly, but they didn’t halt after every shot. There was a lot of discomfort during shooting, but the trouble was also that nobody from the institutions that supported us financially trusted in this mode of shooting. In the midst of the production they expressed their doubts and said that they thought we were making a home-video. The producton stretched for almost 5 years.
What was the most important reason for stretching the production?
The typical model for financial support of cinematography in other countries is that the financial backers first support development, then production (in entirity, including post-production). If an institution decides to finance a film, they allocate credit only after the whole budget, including their share, is covered. But at least when you get the support, you can be pretty much sure that you will be able to finish your movie. In Slovakia, we have to deal with partial support – first, we apply for money for development, then for preparation of shooting, then for the shooting itself and finally, for post-production. We are unable to cover the whole budget in advance. Every new phase means new applications, associated paper work and statements of cost. And that means awful delays. If you don’t get support for one phase (this happened to us in 2008), the whole project goes to sleep for a year.
Shouldn’t the Audiovisual Fund solve these problems – at least some of them? Have you, as a filmmaker, noticed any progress since 2010, when it was founded?
The Audiovisual Fund tries to tackle these issues and when compared to previous functioning of the AudioVision programme at the Ministry of Culture, there is notable progress. For example, the support system is defined in the way I have just described. However, the sum of money it can distribute is crucial here. It is simply insufficient to cover a film production in total. Maybe producers should make the next move and find a compromise solution with the Fund.
Are there alternative sources of financing for Slovak short and animated film makers?
There is support for screenwriting, facilitated by the Literary Fund. In comparison to actual costs of realization it is a negligible fraction, but it can help in the beginning. There is no other standard and stable patron of animated shorts here. Recently, the public Slovak Television has resurrected its funding of TV shows, but not stand-alone shorts.
Could the achievements of The Last Bus and other shorts bring support from foreign TV networks and co-productions?
The first short we produced was Štyri (Four) by Ivana Šebestová. She received some awards for it, too and we managed to sell it to foreign TVs and for cinema distribution, so we gathered some resources that helped us in getting her new film under way. After Four’s success we were talking with a French producer who wanted to co-produce Ivana’s new short. But he wasn’t able to accumulate support in France and our co-operation ceased. Anyway, if we are to work with foreign partners, they have to know about us and believe in our work. Festival success serves us very well there. Foreign sales agents are interested in acclaimed shorts and they can easily place our films on the short film market (art channels, DVD distribution, paid-entry festivals etc.). We signed such a contract for The Last Bus. This way we can achieve better financial returns that help us in starting new projects.
Could you introduce The Last Bus short to potential viewers?
Promotional articles state that it is a short film about egoism and fear. About a borderline situation which shows the protagonists’ true characters. That is all true. Personally, I see The Last Bus as a tormentous question about how one should act when one’s own life is in danger. If we haven’t experienced such an incident, we have no right to judge, but we are obliged to think it through, to consider the ethics of decisions. The lead character of the wolf is very incongruous – he’s both a predator and an underdog, a victim. He’s both aggressive and humane, cowardly and high-principled. But that’s exactly what life is about. The torment of his situation is not in his fate, his story, or his actions. It lies in the question of who caused this desperate, life-threatening situation and why. I think it is inevitable to reopen these themes time and again. Our film refers to postwar times and to the persecution of Jews, but it is valid in any time and any unequal, unfree society.
So it’s quite a serious short. Is it aimed at a specific age group?
We haven’t defined an age limit. It was made mainly for adults. It’s great that young people react strongly. Martin Snopek (co-director) was at some high-school screenings and he had goosebumps all the time, because youngsters were taken aback, they discussed and analyzed the film passionately. The youth jury in Clermont-Ferrand expressed very strong emotions, too. This is really important for me. The message can be understood, it speaks to people, it makes them question things. This is why we should make films.
How did you get along with your co-director?
At first, Martin Snopek directed alone, I was in a team as a producer. Then, during shooting I became involved as an assistant of direction and after a while our positions levelled, and we led the postproduction together. With such a demanding project it was good that there were two of us for the job.
That’s interesting. Usually, directors don’t like to share responsibility with other people.
Reality always defies our expectations.
Are you going to take the film to more international festivals and screenings?
Yes, the next stop is a huge animation festival in Stuttgart. We have been picked for the main competition and nominated for the Meckatzer Lena-Weiss Prize, which is awarded to films dealing with issues of humanity. Then to Regensburg, the Czech AniFest, and the non-competition section at the animation festival in Zagreb. And we’re awaiting decisions from more festivals.
Your film will be in consideration for the short film Oscar. Could this put it on the rosters of American festivals?
I think so. The problem with American festivals is that they are usually not subsided by support funds, so application has to be paid for. Until now, we haven’t been able to afford this. After the Clermont-Ferrand festival we got some offers from Canada, where they decided to waive the entry fee for us. I think that after Tampere we will look at paid-entry festivals more enthusiastically.
Does the Audiovisual Fund refund these costs?
You can apply to the Fund for contribution to these costs in advance. However, experience (not mine) may vary. It looks as if boards don’t appreciate the relevance of short films and that these expenses are marginalized. Usually, they require a proof that your film has a chance to get a “festival life”. This means that you have to participate at some festivals first, only then do they believe that the film deserves such expenses. Costs include not only the entry fee, but also media coverage, postal charges, air tickets and various other expenses.
Text: Michal Klembara, Juraj Kovalcik
Illustration: stills from Posledny autobus (The Last Bus), by Ivana Lauciková and Martin Snopek