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DIAGONALE 2019

Kelly Copper and Pavol Liška • Directors of The Children of the Dead

“We try to be impractical and idealistic for as long as possible during the process”

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- Kelly Copper and Pavol Liška talk about their feature The Children of the Dead, which celebrated its Austrian premiere at the Diagonale last week

Kelly Copper and Pavol Liška  • Directors of The Children of the Dead

We spoke to Kelly Copper and Pavol Liška, co-directors of The Children of the Dead [+see also:
film review
trailer
interview: Kelly Copper and Pavol Liška
film profile
]
, which scooped the FIPRESCI Prize in the Forum section of this year’s Berlinale and has just had its Austrian premiere at the Diagonale. Shot on Super 8, the loose adaptation of Elfriede Jelinek’s novel of the same name causes the horror and Heimatfilm genres to collide, while also paying tribute to the silent-film era. 

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Cineuropa: How did you become interested in adapting Elfriede Jelinek’s novel?
Kelly Copper
: We were invited by the Steirischer Herbst festival to do a project in the Styrian countryside. As part of getting to know the place, we asked if there was any literary link to this area and found out that The Children of the Dead is set there. We were already thinking about using the genre of Heimatfilm or Bergfilm for this project, and weirdly, the threat of the landscape plays a big role in the novel as well: there are mentions of people who died in the mountains.

Why did you decide to turn The Children of the Dead into a (musically underscored) silent film?
Pavol
Liška: Most of our inspiration comes from the silent-film era, particularly from German Expressionism. It’s a language that died too soon. It has not really been developed enough, and there is a lot of potential in it. Another reason was that, in order to adapt a novel like Jelinek’s, it’s important to take a radical approach. You can’t just say: “Let’s pick up the dialogues.” There aren’t any, really. We had to deal with it in a different kind of way, so we decided to eliminate spoken language completely.

KC: Also, on a practical level, we were working with non-professional actors in conditions that were in no way similar to Hollywood’s. When you don’t record sound for the movie, you can direct people more easily, as you can just shout at them what to do. You also don’t have to wait for a baby’s bout of crying to be over. You can just work, and then treat the sound as a separate artistic element later on.

Why was it important for you to shoot on Super 8?
KC: When we moved to New York, there were a lot of flea markets where you could buy boxes of 8 mm films. The fact that you could get them usually meant that the people who made them were dead, and so they had this haunted quality to them. There was also something else about this project and the nature of the story – it takes place at a mountain resort where people would go on holiday, and that made us decide to use Super 8. It’s an amateur film format; it’s the format used for holiday films and home movies. It would be married to the material and we would be accepting its imperfections, and that seemed good for this project. You know you can’t shoot perfectly on an antique camera with film stock – a grain of sand or a hair could pop up in your film at any time. What appealed to us was accepting that a certain number of things in the project would be beyond our control.

How detailed was your script? How much of what we see was improvised?
PL: We had a very detailed script, even knowing full well that we wouldn’t be able to shoot most of it. Especially when we work with non-professionals, in locations where we might not have permission to shoot, and when the scenes, as written, require technical skills that we do not have, we need to be able to change the script. We try to create an impossible problem to solve, and to be impractical and idealistic for as long as possible during the process – right up until it’s time to press the trigger and shoot. We know that when the time comes to solve this problem, we will. So, if a scene describes 100 zombies coming out of the grave, but only three people show up, then we do it with three people. We try to really question the modes of film production. We ask ourselves how much effort and money are wasted on things that are not essential. Then we can decide that something is actually not important at all. For instance, in one shot it can be sunny, and in the reverse shot of the same conversation it can be raining. People can deal with that.

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