2009 Producer on the Move – Slovakia
by Theo Schwinke
In 2003, Peter Kerekes directed and produced 66 Seasons, which Czech critics named Best Documentary of the year. It was also Best Central European Documentary at Jihlava that same year. His current film, Cooking History, is a documentary based on 10 recipes used by military cooks, from WWII to Chechnya, from France to the Balkans to Russia.
Cineuropa: What attracted you to the project of Cooking History initially?
Peter Kerekes: The idea of the project came to me very spontaneously. I was often cooking together with my father, when I visited him at home. One time we started to speak about military cooks, how hard it can be to cook something special in large amounts. And how important is to cook good food for soldiers, because it has such a big impact on their morale. So we started to think about how a cook can affect a battle through his cooking and how a battle can change history.
The film is also about national identity. How did your own background affect the project?
I am from a multi-cultural family that has lived in the town of Kosice for several centuries. The city was Hungarian, German and Slovak — although after WWII it lost its Jewish, as well as its German, spirit. I am neither a Slovak nor a Hungarian, I am a "Kosican" — a citizen of Kosice —and I feel it like a nationality. I think that it formed my approach to the world, so it also formed my approach to this project. I could watch the nationalism in language and in cooking from above.
What role did the various producers play in the project?
From the first moment when I wrote down the one-page idea of the film I was preparing the financing with my Austrian co-producers Ralph Wieser and Georg Misch from Mischief Films. They applied for MEDIA development funding. Mischief got the support of the Vienna Film Fund and the Austrian Film Fund and from ORF. Altogether the Austrian side contributed 52% of the budget; 34% came from the money I got from the Slovak Ministry of Culture.
Our Czech co-producer, Pavel Strnad from Negativ, came up with 14% of the budget. As an experienced production company, Negativ helped us avoid mistakes and looked after the very complicated post-production. Among the TV broadcasters, we had very good support from Czech Television–Television Studio Brno, because they were our first supporters. In addition to ORF, we also had pre-sales to YLE and RAI SAT.
In general, what are the challenges you face as a Slovak producer?
I am much more trained in extreme situations. I know how to produce documentary film in a country where public TV does not produce documentaries or broadcast local documentaries. I know how to raise funds in a country where the support system changes every two years. I have to prepare projects much more precisely than my colleagues in other countries and I have to find solutions with a much smaller budget.
How do you think audiences elsewhere in Europe will respond to the film?
To be honest, I am asking myself this same question. I've shown the film to my friends in London, Paris, Berlin and Belgrade and they liked it a lot. They were laughing at the right places. But as the old Estonian proverb says. “Your friends are not the audience”. I am curious to see what the reactions will be in Nyon, Toronto and Warsaw.
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