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BEYOND HER LENS is inspired by the life and work of female conflict-zone photographer Jana Andert. It follows Alex’s (portrayed by prominent Czech actress Lucie Vondrackova) return to Prague as she attempts to piece together a sense of normalcy after shooting footage in Mosul, Iraq. Directed by Tereza Hirsch.
1 – How did the idea and desire to carry out a piece with such a complex and strong theme come about?
In the very beginning, I wanted to collaborate with a fellow filmmaker from Germany, Luis Seemann. It was at that time in 2017, when tensions were high between Germany and Turkey, and some German journalists were imprisoned in Turkey. One of them even with her little child, a toddler. Luis and I wanted to examine the trauma and stress those journalists must have felt even after their release. However, we then decided not to thematize a specific political conflict, but rather keep the theme of war-related to PTSD in general. At the same time, while writing the script, I saw a TV interview with a female war zone photographer, Jana Andert. This led me to the desire to center the story on a female war zone reporter.
2 – Were there any triggers that will inspire the realization of the film? Apart from the inspiration of Jana Andert.
In this day and age, with digital media informing us about war zone conflicts around the world 24/7, it is quite a challenge not to get triggered. At that particular time, I remember ISIS was at its peak, which I felt was very scary, even for us in Europe.
3 – The photographic device has a central role in the short film. At what level do you think photography can change notions and interpellate society as a whole?
Photography can indeed have a massive impact on the viewer’s perception. Photos influence our imagination and can show reality different from what it actually is. As an example, when we had our world premiere of this film, a photographer working for one of the biggest tabloid newspapers in the Czech Republic, appeared. At first, I was not surprised since our main actress Lucie Vondráčková has been well known for decades. What we did not know, though, was that he took pictures of the audience 30 minutes prior to the beginning, before most of the people were even seated. Even though the theater was full, the headline the next day said “Vondráčková’s newest film premiere was a fiasco and nobody came.” All of it was supported by a picture different from reality.
4 – What was the most difficult thing you dealt with in the process of creating the piece?
Apart from technical things like the difficulty shooting in and out a moving plane or finding a good location to recreate a war-torn city from the Middle East in the Czech Republic, we decided to make some last-minute major changes in the script. In order to make the story more versatile, we added the character of the young Iraqi boy, who is finding his way through the city to bring his younger sibling food. It was sort of a last-minute task to find the right actor for this role. We ended up finding 11-year-old Kryštof Sochor the night before the shoot, and he turned out to be an experienced and focused child actor with the right look. We were really lucky, I guess.
5 – What do you think about all the recorded material of wars that comes to us in a way that is outside the central everyday themes of our western society? Is objectivity possible in the records or is there a voice behind that directs the audiovisual discourse? How do you think you could take all this constructively?
I assume that each media group has its own agenda and also, what makes it difficult, is this era of social media, fake news on Facebook, etc. It can be sometimes hard to choose what to believe in. If I could recommend one documentary that I feel reflects a very raw and honest face of reality, it would have to be the documentary film by Jana Andert called “Inside Mosul.” It is hard to watch for some, but it gives a unique perspective on the war in the Middle East.
Full objectivity is probably almost impossible for any journalist, yet, it is important that they still keep trying. As for the last part of the question, my answer would be that this is exactly why I am not a journalist. As a filmmaker, you can create your own reality and there is way less pressure in that matter.
6 – What directors or writers have been your influences and why?
I admire quite many female directors, who have succeeded in the film industry since I know how difficult it is to compete with our male counterparts. I have been heavily impressed by writer and director Ava DuVernay. Her Netflix miniseries “When They See Us” is a true story of 5 boys, who are accused of a crime they did not commit. It is extremely emotional to watch with its beautiful score and perfect writing.
7 -What plans do you have in mind for your professional future?
It is almost impossible to predict what is going to happen in the near future to filmmakers in the midst of the pandemic. I am planning to shoot a few music videos in Prague and in the long run, I would love to shoot a feature-length movie with a strong female character set in a difficult political situation.
Tereza Hirsch is an award-winning Writer, Director, Actress and Production Designer, best known for her political period piece “The Guilt List”.