As part of their Missile Defence project, the US government plan to locate a military base in the Czech Republic, the same location as used as a hideaway for Soviet nuclear rockets during the Cold War. 70% of Czechs are against the project; the government, however, proceeds with the talks… Supporters of the base use threats of the War on Terror, saying “rogue states” can’t wait to shower the country with rockets. Opponents claim the same thing will happen if the radar is built. According to both parties concerned, the war is inevitable. This is a pre-war comedy: a feature-length documentary about Czechs not knowing whether to invite a foreign army into their country, having experienced Soviet occupation and yet conscious of the current controversial War on Terror.
TOWARDS THE END of 2008, whilst filming their newest documentary, a funny thing happened to Filip Remunda and Vit Klusak of Hypermarket Films: Barack Obama was elected President of the United States. Normally, such an event should have little impact on the cinematic undertakings of two Prague-based documentary filmmakers whose modest but acclaimed oeuvre centers around Eastern European customs and cultures – for example their previous film Czech Dream, a prankster dissection of the Czech Republic’s inflated consumerism after the fall of the Iron Curtain. The Eastern European team of Remunda and Klusak wants to make a documentary about US imperialism trickling into the quaint villages of their country, and so they decide to fly all the way to Washington D.C. to capture their imperialist antagonist President George W. Bush shaking hands and making deals to militarise portions of the Czech countryside. But they lose this central character a few months later when he is replaced by an admirable, charismatic, anti-militarisation president named Barack Obama. This new character plans to demolish the entire military proposition, and the filmmakers are left with two opposing reactions: one, as a politically-opinionated citizen – this is good for the Czech people; and two, as a filmmaker – what a pity to cool the conflict of a hotblooded political dispute.
Like their previous success Czech Dream, Czech Peace, intended for a late-March 2010 release, promises a glimpse of their country’s dark humour regarding patriotism, contemporary problems and, most importantly, its struggle to define itself within the European Union. For nearly three years, Remunda and Klusak have followed the debate and the protests against the construction of a US military base, part of the planned National Missile Defense Program. Located in the woods surrounding Brdy Military Area, the site is a former hiding place for Soviet nuclear rockets during the Cold War. The filmmakers followed activists into the area proposed for the military base in a restricted part of the woods – dubbed the independent nation of “Peaceland” by Greenpeace. They mingled with the protest crowds in both Prague and Washington, squeezed into public squares for heated debates, and found a character for every point of the plot-pinwheel: from the anti-radar Mayor of Trokavec, a small village some 2 km from the wooded military zone, to “Mr. Radar,” the government-appointed spokesperson for the base. His task is to persuade Czechs that the radar is both harmless and essential for peace. The lengthy list of cast members also includes George W. Bush and his administration, Barack Obama, Greenpeace, drunk journalists, lobbyists, activists, Vaclav Havel, a Czech country singer and a wild boar named Jonas.
CZECH PEACE WOULDN’T be a Hypermarket Film unless it was teeming with absurd humour. The soundtrack, for example, inspired by the radar dispute includes titles like, Hey You Bitch in the White House, Welcome, Radar of Stars & Stripes and the cheeky Radar Read Backwards is Also Radar.” But when stepping outside the sarcasm, Czech Peace has the gutsy potential to show history on the verge of repeating itself, where Soviet troops become American and the radar becomes a metaphor for ownership. But whether in lamentation, fierce protest or thoughtful speculation of their national identity and security, the Czech people are presented here as they were in Czech Dream: an honest nation surviving as best it can, with all the transitions of a small country first repressed by communism and since bombarded by capitalism.
Since the election of President Obama, however, the people of the Czech Republic have found themselves in another situation of change, with on-going talks about dismantling the US’s plans to build the radar base in question. This past March, the Czech government halted its own attempts to approve an agreement to host the base, when it appeared quite obvious that the Chamber of Deputies was likely to vote “no”, taking into consideration the fact over 70% of Czech citizens have been against the base since its conception in 2006.
When President Barrack Obama visited Prague last spring to speak to Czech citizens on behalf of the proposed US military base, he handed the filmmakers the outcome of their documentary. During his speech, Obama announced his plan to reduce the stockpiles of nuclear weapons and to reach an agreement with Russia about this. According to a joint team of American and Russian scientists, it appears that the proposed missile defence system doesn’t work after all, announced Obama. One member of the team even pointed out the fact the Pentagon was providing Czech citizens with false information.
SO IT’S CLEAR and simple. The Czech Republic is repeatedly caught in the tug-of-war between the great imperialist regimes – and as a result, documentary filmmakers must make use of the punches provided by serious plot shifts. Although the documentary’s major conflict has found a resolution, the central theme (or issue, perhaps) still lingers. The Czech Republic seems destined to be fought over by the superpowers – whether it is threats from the Soviets, the Americans or fear itself. This is forcing citizens, who now live under a reasonably stable democracy, to once again hit the streets to rally, whether for or against militarisation. Surfacing from the flim footage, rough cuts and trailers of Czech Peace, however, is the stronger question that Remunda and Klusak pose: is it at all possible to find out who’s right?
Unlike Czech Dream, where they posed as CEO in an immaculate hoax to exploit advertising ploys, in this newest documentary they have receded into the background and do not advocate either the side of the supporters or the opponents. They have assembled a chronological account of a dispute, both political and historical, recorded with an observational approach. The truth is up to the viewer to negotiate – because Remunda and Klusak take no credit for it – and whatever truths do surface are likely to be revealed through ironical comedy. Anecdotally speaking, George Bush’s dopey jocularity is far more amusing than the dignified, straight-laced Barack Obama. But all amusement aside, the audience should commemorate the filmmaking team for finding a conclusion to what could have been the documentation of a cyclical contest with no stance. History happened as it does – and to end on peace is a far better payoff than war.
© EDN/ModernTimes (previously published in DOX Magazine).