Vera Lacková • Director of How I Became a Partisan
“I hope my film will inspire historians to keep excavating this strand of history”
- The Slovak filmmaker discusses her resistance against oblivion and unearthing a hidden past from Roma history
Slovak filmmaker Vera Lacková finished her feature-length documentary debut How I Became a Partisan [+see also:
interview: Vera Lacková
film profile] during the pandemic. Lacková was involved in the docu-project Europe: a Homeland for Roma (2014). She founded the production company Media Voice in 2015 with the purpose of fighting against stereotypes about Roma people and other minorities, while cooperating with NGOs throughout Europe. How I Became a Partisan, now screening at the 21st goEast – Festival of Central and Eastern European Film, starts as an exploration of her great-grandfather's engagement in the resistance of WWII, however the journey leads to the uncovering of more hidden facts from the Czechoslovak past.
Cineuropa: You are uncovering the fate of your great-grandfather in the resistance in your feature-length documentary debut, while also being the protagonist of the film, which the title refers to. Why did you decide to step in front of the camera?
Vera Lacková: My grandmother told me about my great-grandfather who was a Roma partisan. He lost all his family members during WWII because he joined the resistance. His life story touched me a lot. When I became a filmmaker, I decided to investigate the topic more closely and I found out that my great-grandfather was not the only Roma partisan at that time. We knew Roma people were victims. There was a Roma holocaust, which we know about although it is not taught in history class, but that Roma people were in the resistance is completely unspoken of.
I promised my grandmother to save Roma partisans from an oblivion that would be basically their second death. That's why I assumed the metaphoric role of a modern-day partisan who is fighting against oblivion. Communism contributed to the fact that Roma partisans and Roma heroes of the resistance went unrecognised. Communists wanted to assimilate Roma people and prevent their emancipation, and that's why these Roma stories remained unknown.
Historians wrote down only the nationality of partisans as well, not their ethnicity. And this situation does not relate solely to Slovak history, there are similar cases in the Czech Republic, Hungary, Romania, and Italy. I hope my film will inspire historians to keep excavating this strand of history so that it can enter the history textbooks one day. That's why I hope that my film will be screened in schools and in Roma communities, because I want to educate the public on this important topic.
Besides the historical research and connecting the dots from the past, the film also has a contemporary storyline. Why did you decide to straddle past and present?
Even if it’s history, it is still a current topic. Europe is being radicalised and it is a daily reality that politicians and ordinary people have an inclination towards extremist thinking. So my film does not focus only on history, but is also preoccupied with a search for identity in my family.
Your documentary maps the atrocities from the past in detail, however, the storyline from the present has a lighter, even humorous tone, including your aunt who even cracks a joke or two.
Well, it is a documentary film and, in that spirit, I recorded whatever was happening. And what I observed in my family and other Roma families is the fact that they are searching for the Roma identity. Unfortunately, the media image of Roma people is not that flattering and some of them are even ashamed of their identity. This is the case of my aunt, who struggles with her Roma identity. However, you have to take her with a grain of salt because she is often self-deprecating and ironic.
How did the script change during the project?
I was constantly rewriting the script, especially when I found other Roma partisans and their descendants or new documents. The script was evolving regularly, however I did not expect to become so personally engaged in the project. The original concept was a bit different. I did not absolutely plan to shoot with my grandmother, that happened only after I met the dramaturg Jan Gogola who led me to it. It was quite hard for me at that time, since my grandmother was terminally ill and we knew she was going to pass anytime soon. Since then, it has become very precious material for me even though I did not use everything in the final film.
The same applies to my aunt who wasn't supposed to be a character in the film originally. However, when I saw how she interacted with the camera, she became a part of the project. Thanks to her engagement, I did not only shot humorous moments but I also managed to uncover a lot about my family and my aunt. I did not know that the grandfather of my aunt's partner had been a Nazi officer.
That was not planned and it happened very spontaneously, when my aunt asked where her partner had hidden all those Nazi medals while the camera was rolling. So out of nowhere, I had these two characters in front of me, the granddaughter of a Roma partisan and the grandson of a decorated Nazi officer. I found this pretty intense and that's why I decided to continue to develop this storyline. Many more similar situations happened throughout the shooting, but I consider this to be the most powerful one.
Even though How I Became a Partisan is just starting its festival life, are you by any chance contemplating a follow-up project?
I am actually, I have two projects in development. One is a television documentary film about Elena Lacková, a significant Roma author who survived the Roma holocaust. And I also started working on another project that revolves around Roma mysticism. I would like to explore Roma culture from a different perspective.
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