Slovakian writer, director Michal Blaško’s short film Atlantis, 2003 delivers a disturbing tale of false beliefs tied to a couple trying to make it across the border. A chilling experience for them and the viewer both.
Blaško’s second, 30-minute short film is part of the Future Frames section at the 52nd Karlovy Vary IFF, presenting young emerging talent from Europe. It is his graduation film at the Academy of Performing Arts in Bratislava (VŠMU) In Karlovy Vary we had the chance to meet the young director to look out for.
Atlantis, 2003 was selected for Cinéfondation in Cannes this year. That is quite a start.
Michal Blaško: My first film Fear premiered in San Sebastián and this now in Cannes. It helps a lot, so we don't have to apply to any festivals now. They contact us to send them the film or want to have it in the competition already. That is good. The bigger the festival premiere, the larger is the life of the film.
So far you have written and directed your films. Do you want to stick to that?
MB: I always wanted to write. In the first [private film] school I went to, it was difficult because we only wanted to write but they forced us to shoot our films. It was then that I found out I don't want to give my scripts to anyone else. I want to make them myself. It was a natural step to directing. At VŠMU they teach us to make author's films. That means we should write them, discuss them and shoot them. To find our own way.
Fear and Atlantis, 2003 both deal with a topic of violence. Is that something that attracts you as a filmmaker?
MB: I'm actually not attracted to violence, but to my character's consciousness, and in a way, they behave when in a situation where they have to prove themselves. Whether they are morally strong enough to make a decision or if they are not. All my films are connected to this, actually. I build my characters up and when some time has passed, I put them in a situation that the audience can connect with. Atlantis, 2003 is not violent. Everything is hidden. The ending is something that we’ve expected from the beginning to be there. It was inspired by true events. We were thinking for the whole time, how to shoot it without exposing everything.
How do you choose your actors?
MB: It was difficult because I don't speak any Russian, so we knew from the beginning that we need Russian actors who could also speak English. The girl is a friend of mine. She is an actress but the guy is a screenwriter from Georgia and this was his first role in front of the camera. The casting was very important, because I knew the film would fail if there was no chemistry between them. They worked really well together and I'm that the film works because of them.
How did you come across this specific case that the film is based on?
MB: Before starting school in Bratislava, I found a newspaper article with profiles of people who had come to Slovakia before it entered Schengen in 2007. Among all these profiles there was a photo of a really beautiful young girl. She was a Ukrainian and she was writing really briefly that she came to Slovakia with her boyfriend legally, wanting to travel to France. Something happened in Slovakia and she stayed here. We did some research and found out that she was not the only girl caught up in human trafficking. When Slovakia entered Schengen, all these topics were taboo in the media. There was some kind of press embargo because it could complicate the entry of Slovakia. I thought it interesting to show what happened there because nobody knew.
It seems to be a timeless story, now that many people are crossing European borders.
MB: Yes. Our film takes place in 2003 but it could also happen now. For me it’s not film about refugees or immigration but a couple. I want to reflect the theme of some kind of universal thinking about responsibility for each other.
With Atlantis, 2003, you got your BA. Your masters project will be up next?
MB: We are still preparing it. I'm also preparing a feature film and the topic of the short is going to be related to the feature. I'm going to try some formal approaches and I will work with some actors who might also play in the feature. I'm convinced that if I should make a mistake it should be in a short. I know then it doesn't work, it's okay. It is still a student film. I don't want to make a mistake with a feature.
Is there something specific you want to go at?
MB: I know that I'm not good in comedies. If someone asked me to shoot a comedy I would nicely refuse. Because it won't be good. I have a spectrum of genres which are close to me. I don't like to call it social-drama, because Atlantis, 2003 is not a social-drama for me. It is more like a road movie or drama, or sometimes thriller. They want to put it in a box which is called social-drama. but for me it is not. It is a mixture of many genres.
The short film is then for you a field to experiment in?
MB: Yes, exactly. Because at school I had these two successful films. I don't need to push it to make a festival film for that Masters degree. I really want to try some things.
C. Photo Credit: Atlantis, 2003 (2017)
Interview with Joren Molter
Director of "Atlantis, 2003" (SK, CZ)
KVIFF - Karlovy Vary International Film Festival 2017 - Future Frames: Ten New Filmmakers to Follow
Name: Sabine Kues