A documentary about coping with pedophilia called Daniel's world by Veronika Lišková, after a successful premiere at Ji.Hlava IDFF, where it got the Audience Award, appeared in the prestigious section Panorama at the Berlinale festival last week. It was a great success, given that the last time a Czech film appeared at Berlinale was in 2010 (feature film Kawasaki’s Rose by Jan Hřebejk). On February 19, the film supported by Institute of Documentary Film will enter the Czech cinemas officially. On this occasion we bring an exclusive interview with the director, Veronika Lišková:
The preparatory phase of Daniel's world took almost a whole year. I suppose that the main source of information for you was the website of the Czech and Slovak pedophile community.
The primary source of information for me were the confessions of individual pedophiles that I have found on the internet, as well as consultations with the experts on the problematics and sexologists. The mentioned website has helped me to get in touch with the community and it also enabled me to follow various forums of the members and learn what issues they currently talk about. The pre-production phase was therefore prolonged more due to the search for the main protagonist and closure of the basic budget rather than due to the initial research.
There is also a section with recommended movies and books on the website, such asLeon or Phoebe in Wonderland or the collection of short stories called Stories of adolescent pedophiles. Have these films and books helped you to understand your protagonists or were there other inspiration sources essential for you?
I was asking the first pedophile I met within the preparations of the shooting about his favorite movies. I remember him mentioning even several typical children’s movies and fairy tales starring little girls that he liked. Apart from that the pedophile community is of course touched by some feature films centered around a strong relationship or a loyal friendship between an adult and a child or adolescent. Leon can be a good example of such a film. Looking at such a film list, one realizes that these people obviously look for the fulfillment of their romantic desires and ideas and that given the fact that life does not offer them a perspective or hope for a mutual love relationship, then their “film dreaming” is more intense than that of ordinary people. The book that you mention - Stories of adolescent pedophiles then definitely helped me to understand what the members of the community were going through during their adolescent years, experiencing their puberty and the awareness of their own oddity, as well as the first coming-outs. However, the greatest inspiration for me - in relation to the shooting - was meeting with the specific people and especially with Daniel. Of course you get to know and empathize with somebody best when you talk to them a lot.
I wonder what our position as a country concerning the common knowledge about pedophilia is. I am afraid that the most essential information that 90% cases of children abuse is not committed by people with pedophilia diagnosis, is completely unknown to the wide public. Is some country better informed in this respect?
I wouldn’t say that we do stand badly compared to the other countries. At least the mentioned community website is functional here and there were also a few courageous and enlightened journalists who were not afraid to speak openly about the problematics - out of the frame of the common media bias that puts an equal sign between pedophilia and child abuse. Some of these journalists even worked with the mentioned statistics 90%. A little better situation is in Germany, where there is a network of preventative on and therapeutic centers for pedophiles, where they can go and talk to the doctors for free. In our country, the free therapy is provided by several devoted sexologists, but we are definitely not ready to build help centers, moreover all over the country.
It is obvious that you did not want to put too much general information into your movie and intended to talk about pedophilia through the story of the main character. Nevertheless, were you not tempted to point out that many devoted sport coaches, artists, scout group leaders or other leisure time activities for children leaders are often pedophiles, including probably the very popular Czech writer Jaroslav Foglar?
Of course I was tempted to do that - even the pedophiles themselves often mention Jaroslav Foglar, Hans Christian Andersen, Lewis Carroll, Benjamin Britten and others. We even talked about these men during the shooting with one of the members of the community, but it was precisely that type of information that must have been cut out because of the footage of the film. Apart from that I wanted Daniel and his friends to stand out for themselves in this movie and not to have to lean on some socially accepted authorities whose sexual orientation we can today only speculate about.
The protagonist of the film, young writer Daniel, has never hurt any child and similar to the majority of his frend from the pedophile community, he can suppress his needs and keep his feelings towards children on a platonic level. Why is it so difficult, even in today’s “tolerant” times to get this message to the wide public? Shouldn’t a state play a more active role in this, or maybe the Ministry of education?
It is, I dare say, mainly because of the mentioned media bias and a simplified label. As long as the media depict each deliquent and child abuser automatically as “pedophile”, it is understandable that the majority of people will not have a chance to get to other sources of information. People cannot learn within the informational mainstream, that the most of the real pedophiles never abuse anyone. The children are far more often abused by people sexualy “straight” but with some character flaw. Hand in hand with this lack of information goes the real risk - the parents are not able to judge who can hurt their children and who is “safe”. I am afraid that even children themselves are still educated in this way - “do not talk to the men who offer you sweets in front of your school”. The fact that they can get hurt by their own relative stays often hidden to them. And that if they find out during their adolescence years that they are attracted to someone much younger is not a reason to commit suicide? That thought is not discussed with them at all.
At Ji.Hlava IDFF, where the documentary won the Audience Award you had to face a question whether you would let your own little son play with the protagonist, Daniel. Would you?
If Daniel were my close friend, who would have been regularly seeing me and my family and then one day came out with the confession that he was a pedophile, then I would want to talk to him about his feelings first. If I then had the information that I have now, then I believe that his coming-out would not be a reason to stop seeing each other. Daniel is very well aware where the limits of his love to children are. I nevertheless get to know Daniel primarily via his pedophilia and as the protagonist of my film. Although we became good friends and I believe we will be seing each other occasionally, the idea of inviting him to my home and let him play with my son a little bit artificial. Should such a situation occur naturally though, I will not forbid it.
The shooting of the documentary has contributed to the protagonist’s “personal development, clarification of priorities in life and coming into peace with his own identity, not only the sexual ones” . What has it brought to you, personally?
First of all it was a great lesson in tolerance for me and also a wake up call concerning the fact how limited information people can have despite of the world of open information access we live in. Also the shooting enabled me to meet many people who are extraordinarily strong - they were able to cope with their naturally complicated sexual orientation and put a lot of effort into being able to hold up to themselves and the whole society.
Your film opens an important debate and helps to spread the information both towards public and towards the community of people who try to learn to live with their pedophilia. The film has its own FB profile, do you have some other plans for promoting the topic apart from festival screenings?
The film is co-produced by Czech TV - we believe that if it decides to include it in its programme, the documentary will get a chance to address a different audience than that from the festivals. Apart from that we definitely plan to put the documentary on some VoD platform to make it available for streaming on the internet. Although it is not primarily educative, we will make an effort to enable its screening at schools, professional conferences and therapeutic centers or directly within pedophile communities in the Czech Republic and abroad.
Before the film enters the Czech cinemas in the middle of February, it is being screened at the prestigious festival Berlinale, in Panorama competition section. Do you know the reasons why Daniel’s world has been accepted in Berlin whereas the festivals DOK Leipzig and IDFA have rejected it?
That of course I cannot answer, I can imagine that the decisions concerning the festival programme are always sort of “bets on horses”. Nevertheless from the very beginning me and the producer Zdeněk Holý were aware of the fact that if some festival would decide to screen Daniel’s World, it must also be willing to open the debate on pedophilia for some time. For the international festivals this moreover meant the will to open a discussion with the foreign protagonist. The curators and programmers of Berlinale IFF might have seen it in similar way and were willing to undergo the trouble.
I have noticed that our most widely read newspaper published a reasonable article about pedophilia based on the interview with a 34-year-old technician with the nickname Jiří Fx100d who also appears in your film. I suppose that similar articles bring you joy comparable to that of the festival awards.
Of course. Even though Daniel's World is definitely not an activist film. However, we were hoping that it might stir some social debate, which can ultimately help the awareness and prevention. When a very relevant text about the problematics was published in such a big media as MF Dnes after Ji.hlava festival or when we are invited to give interviews in other mainstream media, we feel that we have succeeded at least a bit.