I want to unfreeze time, says the director of King Skate

27. 6. 2018

Author: Martin Svoboda

The documentary King Skate by Šimon Šafránek follows the first two generations of skaters in Czechoslovakia when they had to make their own boards and find places to do what they loved. Šafránek wants to deliver a film full of unique archive footage and new interviews which shows a time when the wrong favorite sport could cause a fall-out with the system.

I know that the soundtrack for King Skate is an important part of your concept. You are even collecting money from your fans to pay for specific songs.
We’re not making some philosophical essay to cover the meaning of life – for me, King Skate is a ‘party movie’ that should entertain. It should be a bit like seeing Avengers – the audience is supposed to be overwhelmed by the stream of audiovisual information. They should walk out of the movie overstuffed with images and sounds.
A skateboard is the essence of movement so the movie must be very kinetic. That's why I felt in love with the topic – I saw the photos in the book Prkýnka na maso jsme uřízli about skating and I wanted to unfreeze the time – to see it in motion.

Are you dependent on crowdfunding? Would it be necessary to cut some songs out if you don't collect enough or is it just a shortcut?
I hope we won’t have to rely on it but it’s true that the music is really expensive – it takes around 1 million CZK (40 thousand euro) from the budget, which is more than it usually does. The standard amount of money needed for the soundtrack is around 10% – we must use much more. But when we want to have Sex Pistols, we must find a way. And the times we wept before big producers that we were just poor Czechs are over – nobody will give us anything for free a quarter of a century after the revolution.

But they say the money issue has improved with the reform of the Czech Film Fund six years ago.
It sure has but I still feel frustrated when I hear about some Norwegian documentary about a skater who travels to the polar circle with a budget of a million euros. But I don't want to complain too much while we got enough to make a movie. Not only the Fund but even the public Czech Television deserve our gratitude because it is unfortunately the only TV station that does at least something relevant.

Historical documentaries are usually full of “talking heads” it seems to me you would try to avoid it.
In its totality it is unavoidable but we definitely tried to do as much as possible to get around it. But this effort has its limits. Take the documentary Amy – you have one person in the middle, one topic. You can use the responses as voiceover, you can edit very freely, you can jump all over the place. Our topic is more complex; we have more of protagonists, themes, events to follow. And because of the passage of time, one name can have more faces. And we need these respondents to keep their identity. So you can imagine it's quite a challenge to edit with all of this in mind. After our test screenings we know many of the viewers demand an absolute clarity of information – the titles on the screen, the specificity. Others don't care and expect enjoyment. And it's up to us to find the meeting point of these forces.

Some of the filmmakers solve this problem by the montage of respondents in the beginning and then leaving them out of picture.
But believe me – you need to see these people. They are very charismatic ant interesting. And we put them into situations, for example, we go visit a pool in Karlovy Vary they used all those years ago for skating. We tried to connect the past with the present.

How much of raw material did you have?
We put together 30 hours of our own video with 25 hours of private archive and 5 hours of TV news for an atmosphere. The golden core is the personal archive, those magnificent 8mm reels from the 1980s nobody has ever seen before. What more could we ask for? Some of them were filmed with great care – one of the boys put the camera into a baby-carriage and followed the flying skaters with it, other used strictly a tripod. Some were interested in the rides, others into the human interactions, friendships and fun. The approach of every cinematographer shows his personality.

Some filmmakers don't like to work with archive because they find dysfunctional to edit together so many unfitting styles.
On the contrary we find that it’s a good thing. And the 8mm is great medium – it's like it was made for this approach.

It must not have been easy to collect all those materials.
I was lucky enough to ask the producer Kateřina Černá (Negativ Film Productions) to work with us. She used to be a part of this group and she knew exactly who to talk to. All we needed to do was to call a few people and the chain reaction began.

Do you follow the social and political situation in Czechoslovakia in King Skate?
The reality of everyday life was inevitably a factor in those boys’ story but we didn't want to pass judgment on anybody. Some people left the country for many reasons and others were just fine here. Some were truly happy and didn't feel bullied by the system – they could be even more satisfied with their life than today. There were no worries, no decisions to make; for some people that is the real paradise. It is no coincidence that when we watch random archives we often see much happier people than today. On the other hand, the skate came from the west – the place closed for the skaters. So we try to catch the complexity of themes that follow this reality. The viewer must find his own reaction just as reactions of the boys were so colorful. One skater said he hated the system and everything that comes of it, the other one said everything is fine – and the conflict is born. My goal is to show its presence without deciding. I wouldn't dare blame anyone for being happy about his life.

Can you describe your dynamics with editor Šimon Hájek?
At first we looked for the right approach to our cooperation. Should I come once a week to the editing room? Twice? Every other day?  In the end I was there all the time and it worked for us that way. It was very pleasant process even with my presence – we managed to fight only twice.

Is that enough? Shouldn't the director fight with the editor all the time?
Usually there is an artistic discussion, not a fight. Once I was really angry just because Šimon accepted my opinion even though I knew he didn't agree with me at all. That was the opposite of what we needed. I need him to understand me and I need to understand him. That's the way to enrich each other. After this we needed no other fight, just a lot of arguing.

How much time did you spend in the editing room?
There were two years of pre-production, one year of shooting and one year of editing. But the editing was a process with phases of different intensity. It is no doubt King Skate depends on editing – with 80 minutes of film we have between 1700 and 1800 cuts.

Do you have international ambitions?
Since the beginning we intended to tell a story understandable for non-Czech viewers. We decided to avoid useless details which would spoil the movie with overwhelming amount of local information. We wanted to find the most direct way to reach emotions.

So your final goal is to bring out emotions?
Emotions always hit first. Not only in documentary cinema. When you walk past a picture at a gallery, first you feel what you see and analyze it later. If the viewer feels nothing for our protagonists and doesn't live their story with them, the experience must be much weaker.

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