Life Is Like a Steam on the River

Documentarians Robert Kirchhoff and Filip Remunda describe their adventure of making the Steam on the River.

Steam on the River (Pára nad řekou, Filip Remunda, Robert Kirchhoff, 2015)

The three protagonists portrayed in the film set off on their music career in the 1960s: Laco Deczi – trumpeter, Jan Jankej – contrabass player and Ľubomír Tamaškovič – saxophone. They all believe in themselves and the music they are playing. And they have no other choice. We wanted them to unite and become one in this frame of mind. Each of them is different. One feasts like an animal in the zoo, and another hunts for food in the jungle. But we have ruled out the option to make our film into a documentary portrait.

New Haven, Connecticut. Laco Deczi lives in a wooden cabin by the seaside. It is also the seat of the famous Yale University and a birthplace of the 43rd U.S. President George W. Bush. Population of one hundred and twenty thousand. A very peaceful place. We came here to meet with Laco during the preparations for the shooting. He drove us around the city, stopping by a pile of debris and regretting that we had not been there a week earlier to capture the demolition of a factory stack. He wanted the film to open with a scene in which he would have played his trumpet on the backdrop of falling bricks and demolition noise. The shooting itself unfolded along very similar lines, with Laco spicing the film up with his own ideas. The film opens with a scene of a police car with lights on pulling over in front of a jazz club, and a cop entering the club and later escorting Deczi back to the car. He orders him to put his hands on the car roof and advises him about his rights under arrest and arrests him for making three blunders in a song by Dahoud Clifford Brown. The cop was actually Laco’s neighbour living in the same street, Arpad, a son of Hungarian emigrants. Laco spontaneously surprised him during lunch and asked him if he could play a cop kicking out a jazzman from a music club for messing up a song. Although he’d had a couple of beers, Arpad did not think twice and went to get his car from the station, put on his uniform and joined us on the set. The film was scripted as a sequence of absurd images, a documentary jam-session, in which all characters freely improvise and react to situations which, albeit prearranged, were always left open-ended. So when Chris DePino, a former train conductor, lobbyist and a staunch political supporter of George Walker Bush, called to his ranch in Texas suggesting a recording of a concert of Czechoslovak jazzmen, Laco could have easily stood face to face with the second mightiest man on the planet. But rather than on this mighty man, we focused on Chris and Laco as too good friends who like to fool around.

In the same way, we worked with other characters. Regardless of whether we were shooting Jan Jankej in a St Nicholas costume earning his living in front of a German department store or Ľubo Tamaškovič who set out on a trip to Paris to find his spiritual brother Ray Stephen Oche, with whom he used to play to sold out clubs more than forty years ago. The road to fame is paved with hardship and doubt. The tiresome odyssey is exhausting but at the same time motivating. The everyday routine turns into a succession of expectations, quests, surprises, disappointments and... losses.

They have stayed true to themselves and they are now looking at each other. The situations thus open up the existential topic of the lightness of being, and of death. In the world inhabited by three billion musicians, these three come to the forefront. They appear as part of the absurd, humorous and tragic stories of their lives, as if navigating a mighty river. And time flows. Ľubo Tamaškovič in the film’s opening scene says: “Worldly fame is just a gust of wind. A human life is like a steam on the river, so why hurry?”

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starší články

October 19, 2015

from current issue:

New releaseShooting About KunderaDocumentarian Miloslav Šmídmajer describes the process of making a documentary about Milan Kundera with the working title “Milan Kundera: From the Joke to Insignificance.” Miloslav ŠmídmajerThemeNest in the bedroomPeter Hames, well-known British film historian and author of the book The Czechoslovak New Wave sent his remembrance to Karel Vachek to our magazine.Peter HamesThemeNever stop laughingPaolo Benzi, the Italian film producer and founder of the independent film production company Okta Film, describes for dok.revue how he met famous Czech documentary filmmaker Karel Vachek, who passed away last year. Paolo Benzi is also the main tutor of the Emerging producers in Ji.hlava IDFF.Paolo BenziThemeBehold, if the river is turbulent he is not frightenedIn this English issue of dok.revue we have collected some remembrances to Karel Vachek, the respected Czech documentarist who died in December 2020 at the age of 80. One of the contributors is Olaf Möller, a well-known film theorist and critic collaborating with many renowned film magazines (Film Comment or Sight & Sound), film museums and festivals (e.g. Il Cinema Ritrovato or International Film Festival Rotterdam).Olaf MöllerThemeEvery human being should get to wear comfy shoesThe Czech documentarist Karel Vachek was a chairperson of the jury at Yamagata international documentary film festival (YIDFF) in 2009. The board member of YIDFF and the former director of this festival, Asako Fujioka, has a remembrance of him smoking his pipe and going to the mountains with Japanese poet and filmmaker Yoshimasu Gozo to recite poetry to the skies.Asako FujiokaThemeLike the dog on the beach...American film historian Alice Lovejoy writes her remembrance of Karel Vachek, the remarkable Czech documentarist to whom we dedicate this English issue of dok.revue.Alice LovejoyInterviewThe times of lifelong careers are overAn interview with documentarian Jindřich Andrš, whose film A New Shift won the Czech competition section Czech Joy at Ji.hlava IDFF2020.Vojtěch KočárníkInterviewGoing to the Polish Turf with Our Own TeamInterview with documentary filmmakers Filip Remunda and Vít Klusák about their latest joint film project Once Upon a Time in Poland that shows how religion and faith are misused in contemporary Poland for mass manipulation and political purposes. The film‘s Czech premiere was held as part of the Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival 2020.Kamila BoháčkováIntroductionDok.revue 1.21This issue is dedicated to the doyen of Czech documentary filmmaking Karel VachekKamila Boháčková