15th ÉCU Film Festival | 2020
"From the very beginning I was fascinated with hidden and suppressed emotions in intimate relationships. "
George the dog, refugee
European Dramatic Short
Anna and Lizzie share a flat with George – a tax consultant who thinks he is a dog. George agrees to their strict rules: at home, he may only walk on all fours, isn’t allowed to speak, must lick their feet and obey every order.
Hi Tomasz thank you for talking to TNC, how are you handling the lockdown?
We are staying in our apartment in Prague with Tereza Nejedlá (we produced „George the dog, refugee” together and we also are life partners) - but we are ok and safe so far so we can’t really complain. We are trying to stay positive and continue working on new projects. But it’s hard to be happy and positive when you start reading the news.
As a filmmaker is this experience providing you with some creative motivations?
I’m trying to focus more on my family and friends - we talk a lot on Skype and cheer ourselves up in this difficult times. And I’m trying to work on my first feature film - a project called „Images of Love”. But it’s a little hard to keep focused and disciplined in these circumstances.
Your film George the dog, refugee has been selected for the 2020 ÉCU Film Festival in Paris, what has it meant to you to be part of this unique film festival for independent filmmakers?
This was great news! We are very happy to be able to exhibit our work in Paris among so many talented filmmakers and it’s great that ÉCU decided not to cancel the festival due to the pandemic. We are looking forward to seeing all the films in competition online.
George the dog, refugee has had an amazing festival run so far & has won a couple of awards, did you image you would get this type of response for your film?
Actually our film wasn’t that well received by the festivals. We were lucky to be accepted by a few and won some awards - but in general the number of rejections we got makes me think that our film was too controversial, too weird and definitely too long. Maybe if the part of George the Dog was played by a female actress, that would turn out different. Woman acting like a dog, being humiliated by a sadistic man and begging for love on all fours, and finally standing up for herself - maybe that could work better at the festivals, more according to current „politically correct” trends.
You are a graduate from the Film and TV Academy in Prague (FAMU), what was this experience like for you?
FAMU was great - we didn’t have to pay for the school and we had absolute freedom. We also had absolute responsibility and there was a lot of competition and pressure, so the studies were quite stressful. But we were sheltered in a way and could do whatever we wanted - so when I graduated from FAMU, the clash with the real world of the film industry was a bit of a shock.
What would you say was the biggest lesson you took from your time at FAMU?
From today’s perspective that would be not to go to film school at all - to learn by writing and making films and not to take any advice from older professionals in power. I think the best teacher is your own intuition, your own mistakes and your will to take the risks and to break the rules.
Can you tell me a little bit about George the dog, refugee, what was the inspiration behind this film?
A friend of mine told me about a real incident that happened to her and her friend in a club in Berlin: a guy came to them on all fours acting like a dog, he asked if he could lick their feet, then he wanted to be whipped with a leash and stepped on. Finally he offered to visit them in Prague so they could take him for a proper walk like a real dog. This story deeply shocked me - I tried to understand what was going on in this guy’s mind.
Why was he ready to be humiliated in such a way? Why could someone enjoy being ripped off dignity and freedom and turned into a slave by choice? Why is someone able to have no sense of self respect? Why would someone tolerate this humiliation of begging for love and attention on all fours like a dog?
It somehow resonated with my deepest subconscious fears: that someone could actually get me on my knees, limit my freedom and abuse power over me - and I would for some reason allow that to happen, stay in this deeply destructive situation and let myself be abused, humiliated and treated like an animal. I considered this the most horrifying situation possible. Then I decided to recreate this kind of a situation on the film set. That was my experiment with the abuse of power, like building a little concentration camp in a private apartment with actors acting out the roles of a dog slave and the mistresses.
How important is the collaboration when working on a project like this?
It was all about the deep commitment and trust of the crew and actors - the project seemed very risky, it could easily turn out to be a pathetic and inauthentic parody. But all the people that took part trusted me and I’m very grateful for their support and courage.
What was the most challenging aspect of bringing this George the dog, refugee to life?
First challenge was working on a really low budget. We didn’t get the funding from the Czech Film Fund - they said the script was perverse and pornographic. So I decided to invest family money and make the movie anyway. But that turned out to be the best decision ever - everybody who was with us on the set did it because it was fun and because they believed in the project, not because of money. There was no pressure - we had plenty of time and were free to experiment, improvise and try things we wouldn’t dare trying on a professional film set.
The other biggest challenge was to overcome the actors’ shame and fear. Both actresses (Eliška Křenková and Jenovéfa Boková) and the actor playing George the dog (Petr Vančura) were a little disgusted and scared when they first read the script. The project is all about psychological, verbal and physical violence - so they didn’t feel at all well acting out the roles neither of the victim nor the oppressors. The actresses were very angry at me at one point when they were supposed to humiliate and curse at the actor playing George the dog. Petr Vančura - who was forced to lick their feet and walk on all fours - had stomach problems throughout the shooting. But at the end we managed to avoid being explicit and vulgar and the actors were proud of the result.
"Now I’m more and more concerned with form."
Looking back do you think there is anything you would have done differently?
No, I wouldn’t change anything. My film is far from perfect - but I actually like it being a little raw and unpolished.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Yes, I started making amateur movies when I was around 15.
How much has your style and approach to your films changed since you started making films?
From the very beginning I was fascinated with hidden and suppressed emotions in intimate relationships. My short films at FAMU were very focused on actors. That was all I was interested in: capturing the authentic reactions of the actors. I totally ignored the visual aspect of film. Now I’m more and more concerned with form. I try to ask myself what is the film and the scene about and I try to figure out how to emphasize the theme and the subtext of the scene by the way I frame it, the way I choose the location, light, colors and so on to suggest what is hidden behind the dialogue. The actors are still most important - but I simply focus more on developing an original audiovisual code that would suit the story.
What has been the best piece of advice you have been given when you started out?
In general I used to listen to advice too much. And then I realized that nobody really knows how to make films. I mean - some people know how to make their own kind of film, but nobody would tell you how to make a movie that you want to make. You have to find out for yourself.
Do you have any tips or advice to offer filmmakers about to make their first film?
I’m in no position to give advice, because I’ve made only a few short films. My only advice would be: don’t go to film school, don’t listen to anyone. Nobody can’t really teach you anything original. Watch movies, read scripts and make your own films on your own terms.
"The more they hide emotions and avoid pain, the more frustrated, lonely and agressive they get. "
What are you currently working on?
I’m preparing my first feature film called „Images of love” - a story about a couple who decides to open up their relationship. They tell each other about their experiences with other people and record their confessions on mobile phones. It’s an experiment with absolute honesty in an open relationship.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from George the dog, refugee?
Our film is about the pathology of modern communication. My protagonists try to avoid real and authentic contact with each other and hide their true emotions behind masks, lies, games, power struggles, and fake virtual images because they fear they will get hurt. The more they hide emotions and avoid pain, the more frustrated, lonely and agressive they get. That is what we are trying to say in the film - that playing games and hiding painful emotions inevitably leads to isolation and violence.
This is also a story about the dog hidden in all of us. By this I mean something most fragile and vulnerable that we all have deep inside. We are all fragile and we all deserve to be loved and respected for who we are. And we should’t be afraid to show our fragility. But we have to be careful with that. If someone abuses you, disrespects you and humiliates you in any kind of relationship - and it doesn’t matter if its an intimate, professional or social relationship - it is never too late to stand up for yourself, and either fight back or walk away.