Jail as a Space for Purgation and Redemption

13. 4. 2015

Author: Filip Šebek

Comeback, a strong and visually refined portrait of two notorious recidivists Mira and Zlatko, was originally shot as a graduation film of Miro Remo, but the talented director managed to succeed in a huge competition of several hundreds of films from the whole world and got into the documentary competition at Karlovy Vary IFF 2014. The film, supported by Institute of Documentary Film and included in the KineDok project selection, currently has the rating of 79% at Czechoslovak Movie Database.

Why did you shift from the former, lighter and rather playful topics of your previous films to the heavier issues such as relapse?
A change. I do not want to repeat myself, I want to try new things. I am attracted to both extremes, good and evil. And the strong emotions associated with it. In addition, the prison in Ilava is just a few miles from my native village Ladce. My grandparents from my mother's side were living just next to it. Whenever we walked around as a family, we curiously peered through the barbed wire fence trying to see behind the prison wall. The prison complex associated with the tales and legends was inducing respect. I perceived it as an exotic environment, which just a few people gets into. I really wished to get a chance to explore it there, in the same way we explored various spaces in our childhood. Later on at a school, an offer came to shoot a short clip in Ilava about the issues of reintegration. Two years later we began to shoot a feature length documentary on this topic - Comeback.

How did you manage to be allowed to shoot in a top security prison in the Slovak republic - Ilava?
We were lucky to meet the right people, specifically the warden, Mr. Resek and his colleagues, who made this possible. They saw us in action during filming the mentioned short spot on recidivism and the director himself offered later that if interested, my door remains open to come back and shoot. I was not ready to do that, at that time I was working on rather light and ironic stories. Two years later I called him and asked whether his offer was still valid. It was.

How did Miro and Zlatko convince you that the two of them would be the ideal protagonists of the film?
It was a risk, I have never seen them before. Again, the jailhouse helped, as they (after the approval of the prisoners) recommended six people. Finally, by the natural course of events only two remained. Our concept was very straightforward. We focused on people who were going to leave the prison gates during the year and would have to take care of themselves again. We became their observers, and I believed in an adventure.

How did the cooperation go? Did you pay them something for the time they spent with your crew?
We paid them, especially in the beginning, to keep them motivated to continue to meet with us. The biggest risk of the project was in the loss of contact. But I think it was not just about the money, later we did not have to pay them anymore. We also ran out of money quickly, Comeback was originally a student graduation film. We became friends and they respected our friendship, and were happy when I visited them, whether alone or with a crew. They do not have many friends outside their "recidivist bubble”. They felt responsible for the outcome and tried to help. They were participating to the fullest, which is the dream of every director.

Tell the readers about your most amusing experience during the shooting.
I definitely consider the moment with a pink highlighter amusing: When filming in the prison, I saw a prisoner in the courtyard, who shouted at another in the window, whether he had a pink marker to highlight something in a text. Things have a different value inside the prison than outside. Naturally, you won’t experience many funny moments, but countless cases of ironical and bizarre phenomena will occur. It is a strange island with its own rules. Sometimes I felt as if I was in a school camp.

And the strongest one?
The first day in prison was really strong. Special atmosphere, specific smell. But we also had some really cruel experience. One day, the mother of the decimated main protagonist called us and begged us not to shoot anywhere near the railroad, so that her son would not jump in front of the train by any chance. She was scared, because briefly before his impending imprisonment said that we would kill himself in this scene in front of the camera. I have never experienced such a thing during shooting before. Of course, we did not shoot the railroad scene at all in the end and we talked about the matter with the main protagonist, Zlatko. I told him to not be mad, otherwise he would turn more people mad as well.

One of the protagonists says, that it is not possible to reeducate a man in prison, that one has to reeducate himself. But is it, in your opinion, possible to motivate the notorious recidivists to such “self-reeducation”? How?
I think that some collective successful rehabilitation of the recidivists is not possible. For them, it is a long time in prison, it is not possible to catch up easily, life cannot be restarted like a computer. When you come out, you fall behind on the time spent inside. The recidivists rather wonder how long their “freedom time” will last this time. Imagine that you have spent more than half of your life in jail. Where would you feel at home then?

I really liked the formal side of your film, including the excellent music. Were you planning these things ahead or did you rather adapt to the circumstances during the shooting?
Formally, we planned everything before the shooting started - we used multiple cameras and top cinematographers Ivo Miko, Jaro Vaľko and Mário Ondriš. We wanted to distinguish from the traditional documentary and get closer to the feature film form, despite the fact that we were improvising in search of the visual expression of emotions associated with recidivism. It was similar case with the sound. With the sound master Luke Kasprzyk we were endlessly looking for a suitable atmosphere - we truly made it a point. Concerning music, I cooperate with David Kollar. He is a world class himself. A renowned music portal Prepared Guitar ranked him among the world's top 101 guitarists and his album The Son was ranked among the 13 best recordings of the year. The tracks used in the documentary are from this particular album. His passion for the cause is admirable, you will hear about him yet.

Your film took part in Doc Launch 2011. What did this activity, organized by Institute of Documentary Film, bring to you? Was it helpful?
I have to admit, that given my limited English knowledge it was quite difficult for me; it is difficult for me to speak about a film before it is finished even in my native language, the trailer nevertheless caught the eye of the present audience and we got a good feedback from film lovers who were showing interest in our film. It filled us with energy needed for further work, for which I am grateful to the organizers.

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