Patrik Krivanek is a talented young Czech director whose film Quiet Crossing, which won the Best Film Award for the Micro Short Block section at Oxford International Short Film Festival, takes a look at three students desperately trying to get to safety as their political beliefs put them in danger. We had the chance to ask him about his film, discussing why he wanted to tell his important story which is in some way relevant to a lot of things that are currently happening right now, the cast of the film, the location of where the film was set and of course, how he is dealing with the lockdown.
How are you doing and how are you dealing with the lockdown?
Shortly before the lockdown started, I decided to spend my lockdown in Plymouth, where my sister lives with her three young kids. I spent about a month there, entertaining the kids and learning from them, many things like how to play with baby dolls or how to swing on the swing. Apart from that, I watched many films and series which I had struggled to find the time beforehand. Unfortunately, before long, I had to return to London as there was much work waiting for me. I am now pre-producing two projects – One short and one feature film. So, you could say my lockdown has been quite busy…
What inspired this story?
Rik Hulme, the writer of the script, came up with an idea after reading a book called ‘Stasiland: Stories From Behind The Berlin Wall,’ and was interested in trying to write a short story about the horrible, life-changing choices people in Berlin had to make during the communist era. Based on that, I made a background story, making these students the opponents of the communist regime. It was a story of their attempt to escape the consequences of their actions. We wanted to remind people of this history. The history that repeats over and over again, but in altered forms. The film should serve the viewer to experience and make their own opinions of how people, who are forced to emigrate, must undergo the reality of fear and often sacrifice someone else’s life in the fight for their own. With their lives having changed fundamentally, they will have to bear the consequences for the rest of their lives.
Tell me about the cast.
Our pre-production time was very short, about 3 weeks only and the most important part of your film is the cast; You must always find the right actors who are not only talented actors but also people able to analyze the story the same way you do. There are many talented actors in London but not all of them will share the same perspective or vision. I watched tens of hours of showreels to discover talents before inviting actors for auditions. After that, we spent a couple of days auditioning many great actors. For the auditions I also invited my friend Matej Paprciak who didn’t have experience with film but was studying theatre acting at the Giles Foreman Acting School in London and was also experienced in filming TVC’s. Matej’s enthusiasm for acting convinced me to give him a chance to show us his potential for screen acting during our auditions. His performance has blown our casting team away. He was very well prepared, and his performance was very believable, fitting my ideas for the character of Yans. For the role of Anna, we have decided to cast the very talented, Tullia Pagano, who just graduated from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. In one of the scenes, our script said that “Anna is crying” and we saw many actresses crying during auditions but Tulia wasn’t. I could see much more fear and sadness in her eyes even without crying. It was a very powerful performance. For the role of Marcus, we were looking for someone able to deliver a believable “choking” performance but we found only one actor who convinced us in terms of believability. Alongside his acting, Jack Purkis, a graduate of RADA is also a writer and he was great in analyzing the script, in a way I did, which resulted in our cooperation. Finding good actors always needs time, which is something I and the producer, Ella, didn’t have. However, in a very short time, we managed to cast actors, leaving us some time for rehearsals. The opportunity to develop great performances was crucial for our story.
Tell me about the location of the film.
The story is based in East Berlin and the border area in a Berlin Wall. The set for our period drama was built in the studios at the University Westminster in London. The university permitted us to use a film studio for 8 hours of shooting only and it was split across two days. The set was designed by my super talented production designer, Emily Roberts, with whom we had to figure out how to incorporate the static scenery into the movement to create the conjecture of a moving car. We were able to get some movement in the set with the strings and wires pulling some decorations. To support the feeling of movement, I also had to choreograph actors so they could deliver performances that were evoking a feeling of a car moving. Our camera operator was also an essential part of this process as he had to work effectively with the camera to get a dynamic picture that follows the action. The believability of the set and claustrophobic feel representing life behind the Iron Curtain was the most important goal to achieve for me and Emily, and with great planning during preproduction, it took her and her art department team just a few days to build our set.
Tell me about your script process.
When I first read the script written by Rik, I was very captivated by it and proceeded to analyze the strengths and weaknesses in the story for the story development. To be politically correct, I also had to do extensive research which also helped me to empathetically approach the subject. With my Producer Ella Eddy, we wanted to a universal story which would be understood all around the world and even though ‘Quiet Crossing´ is set in 1967, it tells a timeless tale that is still applicable to many people’s struggles worldwide today. Oppressive political regimes still reign. Families have no choice but to flee the tyranny of their home nations.
Why did you pick the title Quiet Crossing?
The title of the film ‘Quiet Crossing’ can sound pretty generic but I believe it is much more than that. In the beginning, it should just reflect the part of story whereby the group of people must remain quiet at the time of arrival (at the border crossing point), but for me, there were also many deeper meanings. For example, the word “Quiet” should reflect the censorship behind the Iron Curtain and the fact that people couldn’t talk critically against the oppressive government without the risk of being imprisoned or even executed. The word “Crossing” stands for the travel that was forbidden, meaning that people could not cross the border and so, could not emigrate.
Due to the current climate of coronavirus, do you think the world of film is going to be changed forever?
The pandemic has affected many filmmakers all around the world but it has also given them time to breathe and think. Many people started writing new stories that they didn’t have time to write before. This counts for me, also. Yes, the pandemic stopped, delayed, or postponed ongoing productions, many people have sadly lost their jobs and it will cost the film industry much money (which would have eventually been invested in other projects). But on the other hand, and to stay positive, I would say that films and the film industry will benefit from this pandemic. There might be fewer films but the quality will increase. People will always need to be entertained or educated and, with many people locked in their homes “running out” of material (films and series) to watch, we as filmmakers are here to satisfy them.
Are you planning to make Quiet Crossing into a feature?
I believe that ‘Quiet Crossing’ has great potential to be a feature-length story. Together with Rik Hulme, I would like to write a story that establishes the life of the characters before Quiet Crossing, but also after that. This could show the fear of living under the oppressive communist regime, but also focus on dealing with the consequences of their actions after they escape. Making it a feature-length story now depends only on the finances and potential producers interested in the story. For the story development of the script, written by Rik, and the potential feature, I have made a background story, making these East German students, opponents of the communist regime. It is a story of their attempt to escape the consequences of their actions – rebellious fighting against the political regime in their country. I always loved films of Milos Forman and how he has worked with difficult topics. Forman has often made “small” people big and has made films about people rebelling against something bigger than themselves; fighting against authorities, political systems and institutions to win a better life for themselves or others. Quiet Crossing as a feature film shouldn’t be any different and it should be critical against the oppressive regimes which still exist.
Did you have an alternative ending for Quiet Crossing?
For a short time, I was considering an alternative ending to close the story but leaving it with an open ending has offered scope for further development. I also like the fact that an open ending leaves our audience with many questions: What is the characters’ journey afterwards? Will they survive or how will their lives change? As I aimed to deliver a thought-provoking film, an open ending was the best option.
Describe Quiet Crossing in one word.
What upcoming projects do you have coming up?
My next two projects are called ‘Muddy Shoes,’ which is a short 20-minute film written, directed, and produced by myself and a feature film called ‘Two Words as the Key,’ which I am executive producing. ‘Muddy Shoes’ is a powerful and personal story about an important time in history, told from a unique viewpoint. It is a psychological description that depicts the atrocities that were carried out on defenceless people during WWII. ‘Muddy Shoes’ will be shot in two different formats; 35mm digital and super 16mm film. Each section will be shot in an equally distinctive format to separate the two different time periods as the film’s story is based in 1943 and 2010. This film is full of kids and includes a little cat so it has everything I was taught not to do! J To make it even more difficult, I have written rain and burning houses into the screenplay and it will be a low budget film!
‘Two Words as the Key’ is an independent feature film directed by the Czech Film Director, Dan Svatek, and with a production budget of under $2.5 million. It will be shot all around the world (USA, India, Nepal, Indonesia, Japan, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, and Poland) in 2020-2021. Together with Dan and Josef Formanek (the writer of the book ‘Two Words as the Key’), I promoted this film at The Marché du Film Producers Network in Cannes during the Cannes Film Festival 2019. If you were enthralled by the atmosphere of films such as Magnolia, Life of Pi, Baraka, or Babel, then you have something to really look forward to!
How can people keep up with you and your work?
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Any last thoughts?
I would like to take this opportunity to thank you for interviewing me and also, I would like to encourage your readers to create stories, make films or use different art platforms to talk. There are many stories all around us which need to be told or revived. Art is an expression of freedom so please be creative or support artists who are trying to create. These artists are often people who are trying to express themselves and use their freedom to support others and, importantly, to support people living in countries where their freedom is suppressed.