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Where Stories Live - Slovakia
“Hi, I am from the Bulgarian Cultural Institute. Thank you for coming to Bratislava. We sent the invites for the movie to the Bulgarian community last night.”
What? You sent the invites the night before the premiere of the film in Slovakia!?
There ended up being 15 people in the audience.
The next day, at our second stop in Banska Bistritsa, we set the record with 4 in the audience.
When one is in search of stories, stories happen. You can stay focused on the shortcomings of a few movie screenings or you can make the most of your first journey in Slovakia.
Check out our website for premiers in London and Ireland this week.
Hristo Botev School
In Bratislava we held a showing of “Kaval Park” for students in the Bulgarian school “Hristo Botev”.
The school was founded in 1948. Eventually, it became a private school from 1st to 12th grade that operates like a regular school Monday through Friday. It’s accredited in Slovakia and Bulgaria. And here is the shocker - out of 100 students only some 10% or so come from Bulgarian families.
The writing bellows says: The beginning which gifted us light.
“Why would Slovak children wish to learn Bulgarian?” I asked the director. He is a happy fellow who has lived in Slovakia for ten years. He loves his job as do all the teachers I meet - I can tell by the smiles and lack of nervous energy. He tells me it’s because the school is known for the superior quality of education and the nurturing environment teachers create.
“We care for every child as our own.”
The following photo with the “call to action” words sums up the spirit of the school. I’ve translated them starting from top left in the photo and going counter clockwise:
We can achieve anything
We make mistakes
We make friends
Miroslava in the photo above opened the showing with a melody on the duduk. She is not Bulgaria. “She is new the to school and is integrating just great,” tells me her teacher.
“Do you know what Mirsolava means in Bulgarian?” I ask the children. Mir is peace and Slava is fame. “But of course,” a boy smacks his head playfully.
“Miroslava - the one who works in the name of peace,” I add. If I’m ever gifted with another daughter, I’d like to call her Miroslava.
On the stairs a Slovak boy of 12 leaves the film early to do homework. “Thank you,” he says. “I liked the movie so far. There were some funny parts and some boring ones too.” I smile. I appreciate his sincerity. He tells me he plays soccer and wishes to score more goals. I notice that almost all children greet me, look me in the eyes and are genuinely engaged. I leave the school hopeful and recharged!
a friendly reminder:
Hey, Dear Reader! If you are reading the newsletter in Gmail switch to the browser or app here view to see all the photos and text. You will miss some photos I want you to see!
Before we leave, I wish to briefly tell you about our hosts in Bratislava. Yaroslav or Yaro (which his wife tells me means spring in Slovak) is a film and radio director in his early seventies. He tells us about a script he's ready to film called “Pencho” - a story about a Bulgarian steam boat (the last of its kind).
The boat carries Jews along the Danube and across the Black Sea to Jerusalem in WW2. I can picture the journey with all of its perils clearly and plan to read the script. I have an affinity for martial arts and listen keenly to Yarrow explain that, amongst the hundreds of refugees, the creator of the martial art Krav Mega Imi Lichtenfeld is on the boat. When the boat crashes off the coast of Italy he saves a boy from drowning. While still living in Bratislava, Imi fights with local Nazi groups in the streets. The aggressors use brass knuckles so he figures out a way to turn their weapon against them. He grips the brass knuckle handle on the inside of the attacker’s palm, twists it, breaking the hand as far as the elbow.
On the way out of Bratislava we stop at Devin Castle where the Danube and Morava rivers meet to continue their journey together and, eventually, flow into the Black Sea. At the entrance lies Freedom Gate dedicated to all those who during communism tried to escape into Austria on the other bank.
TIP for the world traveler:
Slovakia has fully adopted the Euro which is the only currency you can use when visiting.
The second screening of “Kaval Park” in Slovakia was in the Museum of the Slovak National Uprising in Banska Bistrista. I’m floored by the sculpture by Joseph Yankovich. It’s called “The victims are warning.”
I insist on getting a tour of the museum. I’m far less interested in having time for coffee in the plaza. I’m greeted by a new visual installation which cost 600,000 Euro. It’s been up for two years and was specifically created for students - a generation used to visual storytelling. A school trip to the museum is part of Slovakia’s History curriculum.
This was one of the most interesting History lessons I’ve ever experienced. And yes, the exhibit was an experience before anything else. Maybe because it’s all about storytelling History was my favorite subject in school. The museum experience started in a room with interactive video screens consisting of 3-4 minute presentations. The photos bellow barely tell the story… The first screen featured six short videos. Each one incredibly insightful finishing with the story of a Mercedes - the car the leader of the resistance rode in.
The experience finished in a room with testimonials by survivors as well as a 180 degree screen with an immersive movie about two brothers who fought in the uprising. I leave inspired to create and curate a similar exhibit in Bulgaria for school children. As a film director working in the visual arts I know I can contribute a great deal.
We finish the museum tour by walking across 4-5 floors of artifacts spanning from weapons to clothing. The prisoner chessboard made out of dough juxtaposed against that of the officers in a concentration camp tells a story which undoubtedly still holds many more lessons.
In between the chessboards is a prisoner’s dress. The inmate stitched a diary into the cloth. I stand looking at it, at a loss for words. This and many more stories from my travels will certainly make it into my films…
My host was Krasimir who moved to Slovakia from Bulgaria when he was just three years old. He volunteered to translate “Kaval Park” to Slovakian and plans to translate two more of my documentaries. Thank you, my friend!
Umbrellas from our last Slovak destination Koshitse. I will be adding the photo to my film Look Book to use in a future set. They will make for a jolly scene and should diffuse light pretty well. And just imagine rain falling…
Listen for the stories that live around you!
You’ve been reading Where Stories Live - a series by Bogdan Darev about his world travels.