Whilst preparing for the first Freshly Squeezed Film Festival in 2012 I met mixed opinions about what a student film is. For some, like myself, it represented a pool of work from burgeoning film professionals, for others it represented kids playing around with expensive equipment. After having selected those thirty-four films that were eventually shown, out of two-hundred submissions, I could breathe easily - the variety, passion, innovation and technical capabilities that stemmed from these films proved me right and granted the months and months of heavy work that went to bringing these gems to the big screen. 'You Shall Not Leave the Way' struck me as a potential winner from the moment I saw it, its impeccable visual storytelling, portraying complex ideas in an eloquently playful manner that appeals to Europeans and Latin Americans alike, with a bustling undertone of rebellion and innocence. These qualities represent what is great about student films and I am glad that our jury took notice of that and Access Cinema went so far as to pick up the film for a wider release in the Republic of Ireland.
'You Shall Not Leave the Way' - Thoughtless acceptation of rules doesn't have to lead to the intended aim. A clever and humorous short about the life of a man descending from a community that attempts to lead a dogmatic life and refuses the ways of others.
Veronika, please tell me a bit about your background.
I am studying for seventh year at the Department of Animation at Tomas Bata University in Zlin, Faculty of Multimedia Communications. Last year I graduated with a Masters degree, with my grad film 'You Shall Not Leave the Way'! I am currently continuing PhD studies in animation. Besides animation I am also interested in painting, which I had the possibility to study during one semester of Erasmus programme at Yeditepe University in Istanbul. My home is now divided between two towns, one is my family town NámÄšÅ„ and Oslavou, a small historical place where I am participating in the organisation of some cultural events such as organising animation workshops for children. The second town is my university town - Zlín, where we organize a festival for democracy called Zlín Spring.
Where did you get the idea of going to a film school?
The idea of going to an art school came very early. Since I was seven, I was attending the elementary school of arts, where I had a nice community of friends. During my high school studies at grammar school, I became quite sure that continuing in an art school must be the way. I was still focused on painting, but my pictures were more illustrative than the stuff I needed for an arts academy. I was advised that animation is the field that matches my patience, so I started to prepare for that. I feel very lucky for choosing animation, for many reasons including diversity in the creation process and for the practical opportunities.
What advantages and/or opportunities does film education provide, in your opinion?
First of all, the creation of animated filmsis the thing which fulfills me, even though it is a long process, every time it is longer than estimated, painful and stressful - and I still believe that I will find a job in this field. I hope to get some practice in an animation studio whilst making my own auteur films. I will see, the view of my future is still forming...
Opportunities... in this fast paced world where people tend to read less books, film is a very strong medium, which can provide information, personal opinions, form people´s artistic taste. Film has a great power to carry interesting and important messages and generate discussions. Animated film has the capacity to open these ideas in compact space, be metaphorical, allegorical, very stylised and still readable.
How did you come up with an idea for the animation?
I was searching for a good topic to work on, so we discussed with my boyfriend who is also the co-writer, the things that tormented us: issues we were thinking about and wanted to express an opinion on. Most of the film's characters and ideas they represent are based on reality, on what we've experienced in our lives.
Your film is what film should be, ideally, being a great example of visual expression of ideas. Can you tell me a bit about the process of distilling this massive pot of ideas into one 5-minute film...
At the beginning of the process there were ideas we wanted to fit in the story, problems we wanted to open for discussion, but it was necessary to come up with some unifying element. Thus, a life story was what we needed. Then we posed these problems in situations whichoccur and placed the characters who meet the main hero to the appropriate part of his journey to express his narrow view of the world. I can say that I have a problem with pacing in my films. So working on more levels with side stories which open and close during the film fits me.
How does animation benefit the expression of your ideas?
As the story of 'You Shall Not Leave the Way' doesn´t involve a concrete place or people, it can be widely understood as a critique of a variety of dogmas, not only the Church. It wouldn´t have such an effect if it was a live action film. Animation allows one to omit explanation because the audience is not disturbed by its lack of physical principles. So the storyand enviroment can be pretty stylised and allows to play more with fantasy, especially on the visual aspect.
What was the budget of the film, and how much time and people did it require?
There was no budget - it was a school project and I did most of the work myself, with my animator friend helping me with colouring. I needed other people to work with me on the screenplay, on sound, music and editing. The whole production took about nine months.
What are the three most important things to you in regards to making a film, that you scrutinise?
They are changing! But now the story is more important, to say something meaningful in an original way and go an unexpected way. On the visual side, I try not to copy but find a personal style and try to change it at least a little bit with every following film. I try and develop dramaturgy and rhythm - to grab the audience and not to make them sleepy...also a bit of humor is necessary not to be unduly serious.
Czech animation has historically been considered of very high quality and thought provoking. How much do you take from those traditions and how much do you look to mainstream, for instance at Disney or Pixar productions?
Actually I am now more open to films from Disney and Pixar. I can appreciate technological qualities and also in some of them, the story. What I like to find in films is some personal message, something more than great effects and a lot of action. A provocative message, if cleverly done, is also something that attracts me. Add an unrivaling visual style and a great piece of work can arise.
What's next and what to you hope from your future and of “You Shall Not Leave the Way”?
We are working with the same duo as on "You Shall Not Leave the Way!" on a screenplay for the next animated short film. As my dissertation deals with Totalitarianism in animated film, we would like to discuss the theme of our Communist past, that has had a far-reaching impact on people´s psychology. But we try not to repeat things that have already been filmed and attempt a contemplation on current life and society.
'You Shall Not Leave the Way' list of crew:
Direction, design, animation: Veronika Szemlová
Screenplay: Tomáš Pasterný, Veronika Szemlová
Music, sound: Marek Gabriel Hruška
Editing: Libor Nemeškal
Supervision: Ivo Hejcman
Many thanks to: VlaÄka Macurová
Tomas Bata University in Zlin.
The interview with Veronika Szemlova took place through an exchange of emails in October 2012.
Let's Talk Film publishes a range of written work regarding film and education from a variety of contributors and while we do our best to provide quality content, the festival is not defined by any of the opinions expressed in this blog.